By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Steve and Jennifer Davis used to watch sunsets from the back deck of their home.
They enjoyed the privacy that a stand of timber created at the edge of their backyard.
“That’s one of the main reasons we bought this house,” said Jennifer Davis, 2718 N. Missouri Ave.
Now the couple see headlights instead of sunsets. Their elevated deck overlooks a bridge ramp and a drainage ditch that abuts their backyard. They no longer see their own yard as a safe place for their young children to play.
They live next to the $17 million interchange under construction at North Main and Zora streets. The purpose of the interchange is to span Main Street and an adjacent rail line to increase safety by eliminating the train crossing on Veterans Way. The interchange also will eventually link Highway 249 to the west side of Joplin or a future west bypass.
Residents of the neighborhood have asked the city of Joplin for its help in trying to reduce the problems they are experiencing with the encroachment of the interchange.
Fifteen of them met Sunday with Jack Schaller, the city’s assistant public works director. Their appointed spokeswoman, Linda Lawrence, 2806 N. Missouri Ave., also told the City Council about the problems during a meeting Monday night.
“We feel as homeowners and taxpayers we have been deprived of peace, serenity, privacy and safety by the Zora and Main Street bypass,” Lawrence told the council. “In order to restore our privacy, serenity and safety to an acceptable level, we are requesting a noise and safety barrier behind our homes.”
Lawrence told the Globe that safety is a key concern. She said the ramps on the northeast corner of the intersection run so close to the homes of the Davises and others that the neighborhood’s residents fear a careening vehicle might smash into their yards, or worse, their houses.
Additionally, she said, “The noise is horrendous” now that there is no barrier between the houses and the intersection. There is increased traffic noise, and the sound and vibration from passing trains on the railroad line on the west side of Main Street have become a nuisance.
“It is actually to the point the houses feel like they are shaking” when a train passes, she said.
Headlight glare is another issue since the neighborhood’s natural barrier is gone. “Some neighbors say the lights come into their bedrooms at night and they cannot sleep,” Lawrence said.
Residents met last spring with representatives of the city and the Missouri Department of Transportation. They were told there were no plans to provide any safety or noise and light barriers for the neighborhood.
“This demonstrates an unacceptable level of understanding of our residents’ intrusion of traffic noise, light and danger on the ramp at the rear of our homes,” Lawrence told the council.
The Davises wrote in a letter to the council that “the off-ramp from North Main Street was graded at an angle that will put all vehicle headlights on our home.” They said the problems created by the project have ruined their enjoyment of their home.
Jennifer Davis said she and her husband bought their house in 2010, moving here from Chicago. They were not told anything about the project when they were considering the home’s purchase, even though the city had unveiled design plans for the interchange in 2009. The city had notified the property owners at the time that the project was in the works, but that information was not disclosed to the Davises when they bought the house, she said.
Davis said her neighbors, who were aware of the project, “didn’t have a clear understanding of what they would be doing,” and didn’t realize that the work would bring the road so close to their houses.
City Manager Mark Rohr told the council on Monday night that the city is trying to determine what can be done to abate the problems the residents are experiencing as a result of the project. He said the city will ask MoDOT to help provide a remedy because part of the land involves MoDOT right of way. The city will look at options including the construction of some type of screen or wall between the interchange and Missouri Avenue.
Dan Salisbury, assistant director for MoDOT’s southwest district, said: “We talked to the city staff about that. A longer term solution is to plant some trees. I think both of us understand it’s something we can do, and it’s more of ‘How do we do it?’ at this point,” referring to the collaboration to bring relief to the troubled neighborhood.
THE INTERCHANGE is one of the projects the city linked to a three-eighths-cent capital improvements sales tax approved by voters in August 2004. About $2 million was spent on buying right of way for the project. The city paid $850,000 for one tract of land where the northeast exit ramp was built that has affected the neighborhood on North Missouri Avenue.