When Jim and Lyn Metz found their lake home on Middle Spunk Lake in Avon 4-1/2 years ago, they knew they had found a rarity in the land of 10,000 lakes. 

“Lakeshore like this, with the amenities of the city – it’s not very often you find that,” said Jim sitting with Lyn and their two dogs in the sun porch of their home on the south side of the lake.  

Outside, the glimmering waters were calm with only a bit of lingering ice cover in the distance – proof that winter’s signs were soon to be a memory. Despite the calm look of the water though, a silent point in discussion alerts ears to a rumbling issue that has plagued much of the Stratford neighborhood where the Metz’ reside. 

The hum of constant traffic along Interstate 94, just 105 yards away from the Metz’ home, is hard to ignore. East and westbound travel has steadily increased over the years – a trend that is not expected to slow down. 

But starting in March, the ditch separating the westbound lane of I-94 and the yards of landowners along Hamlet Drive South and adjacent streets has seen a frenzy of activity as a noise barrier rises up. The barrier, installed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, will be approximately 20 feet tall and will stretch 3,300 feet along the north side of I-94. 

The total project cost was originally estimated at $1.5 million. The City of Avon needed to make a 10 percent match to that total. According to City of Avon Administrator Jodi Austing-Traut, an anonymous donor paid that $150,000 total. 

“Final project costs came closer to $2 million,” Austing-Traut added. “But MnDOT stuck to their initial agreement for the city to pay $150,000.” 

In a previous proposal, the donation was not there and residents would have been assessed for the city’s portion, which did not bode well for moving forward. Thus, the proposal was halted. That was, until the funds were offered.  

Blocking the noise

While they are not directly backed up against the noisy roadway, the Metz’ have struggled to get used to the noise that never stops and peaks in warmer months as traffic increases. Just at the point when they and others in the neighborhood hope to head outside, host gatherings and enjoy what Minnesota has to offer, they say they are met with disruptive noise. 

Looking back on their purchase of the home, Jim Metz points out that he and Lyn had not taken noise into account as they did their walkthrough. Moving from Elk River, they had been in search of lake life that wasn’t too far away from family in the metro area. 

“Avon was perfect,” Jim said. “We knew we wouldn’t get everything we wanted, but we were happy with the one-story home, nice neighborhood and a great lake.” 

It wasn’t until after moving in that the couple took real notice of the traffic noise of I-94. 

“I remember taking our dog for a walk…I came back home and told Lyn, ‘You have no idea how loud that is,’” said Jim. 

After talking with neighbors, the consensus was that everyone just had to get used to the noise. Not wanting to just sit back, Jim began researching options for his own property – from sound-deadening fabric to walls. 

The pricey fabric idea was put to the wayside and eventually Jim and Lyn installed a wooden fence on the south end of their property, which faces the interstate. Their main reason was to add privacy and an enclosure for their dogs. 

“It has served those purposes, but didn’t do enough for the noise,” said Lyn. 

Through his research, Jim has been taking decibel readings with an app on his smartphone. On a recent morning, he took a two-minute reading of the interstate sound. The maximum detected was 76 decibels with an average of 65 decibels. 

This wall is anticipated to drop that level by 10 decibels, which, as Jim points out would be about half the noise disruption. 

“We won’t really know until it is up and we certainly do not expect all of the noise to go away, but this will make an impact,” he said. 

Down the street, just a couple of blocks along Hamlet Drive South, with his yard directly adjacent to the interstate, Brandon Boquist points out that he and his wife Ellen’s plans to do a bit of entertaining in their backyard is on the list of things to do when the wall is completed, which is expected to be this August. 

But that’s not their only cause for celebration. Sleep is another major factor. 

“I work at the St. Cloud Hospital as a nurse, working rotating day and night shifts,” said Brandon. “For me, getting proper sleep is getting harder as the traffic increases.” 

The Boquists moved into their home in 2009. As Brandon recalls, doing a walk-through of the home in the winter diminished the worst of the noise. 

“The snow does change the sound,” he said. “We didn’t really notice the full potential until spring came as we were moving in. We have never really been able to get used to it. It is especially loud because we are near the rest stops, so trucks are always using their Jake breaks as they slow down.” 

Boquist recalls going to the city council a few years ago to share his support of the original barrier proposal, citing a study about the negative affects of high decibels on children’s sleep quality. 

“I didn’t really get to present my findings,” Boquist said. “The fact was that there wasn’t going to be funding for the 10 percent and many people were against the assessment. So, the project wasn’t happening.” 

Back then, the Boquists decided that without a wall, they would need to move out of the neighborhood when they decide to have children. 

“Now,” he said watching the traffic flash by, “we may consider staying here. Aside from the noise, it’s a really great neighborhood.”

Opposition to the wall

While many are looking forward to what the barrier will bring, there are others who remain opposed. 

“There a number of folks who enjoy the I-94 view,” Austing-Traut pointed out. “For instance, they may be able to view the road conditions and speeds prior to leaving for work in the morning. There is another couple that enjoys sitting on their patio to watch for vintage vehicles.” 

Additionally, there was also some concern for the number of trees that had to be taken down to make room for the wall and how that would impact some people’s view. 

“Several folks who will now have the 20-foot high wall in their backyard raised concern about feeling ‘boxed in,’” said Austing-Traut adding that previous opposition was also caused by the possible assessment. 

“But once the donor came forward with the full match amount, that became a non-issue,” she said.  

Regardless of where they each stand on the installation of the noise barrier, construction is well underway for the residents of the neighborhood. According to the city, there are 27 homes expected to receive the maximum noise reduction benefit from the wall while 15 homes will receive moderate decibel reduction. Another 47 homes will receive some residual benefit. 

“We are looking forward to seeing, or rather hearing, the difference this will make,” Jim Metz added. “The traffic is only going to increase, so we are happy something is being done along this stretch.”