The meeting was called by City Engineer Jason Vogan after the group complained to the City Council that the city was ignoring them when they voiced their concerns. Their frustration prompted them to hire a lawyer to represent them in the matter.
"This is an opportunity for me to hear your concerns and deal with them to the best of my ability," City Engineer Jason Vogan told the gathering at the city's community center. "I'm here to listen to you, not to tell you what's going to happen. We'll take the message back to the City Council."
The worried residents will be affected by Segment 2 of the widening project. That segment, scheduled to begin construction sometime next spring, will extend from Woodhill Drive to Brown Road. All of the residents want a sound wall built along the south side of the road, which Vogan said will eventually be the main east-west corridor in the city. It will also eventually evolve into one of the busiest, he added.
"We anticipate that by the year 2020 there will be about 36,000 cars traveling on Laurel each day," Vogan said. "To put that into perspective, right now about 40,000 vehicles use Main Street every day."
It is the increase in traffic that worries the residents, who insist that a sound wall should be included in the widening project for noise, safety and privacy concerns.
"We definitely need a sound wall," said Bryan Smith, one of the residents most affected by the road widening. "They're moving the road 32 feet closer to us and removing a dirt berm that serves as a noise buffer right now.
"We don't have a quarrel with widening Laurel. We realize that the city is growing and things are changing. But we don't want to listen to all the noise from traffic - especially with the expected increase in traffic."
There is already a sound wall on the north side of Laurel, across from the Holmes Road residents. And Smith said that adds to the noise problem. "The sound bounces off that wall and comes cross the road to us," he said. "We just want to keep the quality of life we have now. Put me down for a sound wall."
Residents were relieved, however, to hear that heavy truck traffic would not be allowed to use Laurel, which was another of their major concerns in terms of both noise and safety.
"Eventually, all four corners of the Laurel Road and O'Hara Avenue intersection will be commercial centers," Vogan said. "So there will be some trucks using those corridors for deliveries. But there won't be big rigs using Laurel. They will have to use the Highway 4 Bypass."
The project does include one "turn pocket" for Holmes Road, which is horseshoe-shaped with two outlets connecting it to Laurel. One resident asked if they could have two of the turn lanes, but one of the design team members said that was not possible based on a state-mandated policy regarding the allowable distance between such turning lanes.
The widening of Laurel Road is the most ambitious program currently underway in Oakley. By early 2008, Laurel Road will be widened to four lanes all the way from O'Hara Avenue to Highway 4 Bypass.
"By way of analogy, getting the bypass is like getting a new front door," Vogan said. He added that whatever the city ultimately decides to do in terms of noise mitigation, it will have to be attractive."
The design for the widening project includes a landscaped median.
"This is going to be one of the busiest corridors in Oakley and the city wants it to look nice," he said.
Councilman Bruce Connelly, who attended the meeting, agreed with Vogan. "The council generally doesn't like plain sound walls," he told the gathering. "We like them decorated somehow or landscaped. I don't think you'll ever see a plain sound wall built in Oakley again."
In response to another question, Vogan told the gathering that the speed limit probably would be 45 m.p.h. "But we won't know for sure until studies are conducted," he added.
In talking about a sound study that was included in the environmental impact report about the project, Vogan said it indicated that an upgrade of windows as noise mitigation would be necessary. "That means replacing the windows you have now with double-paned ones," he said. "The study also said air-conditioning should be included because the double-paned windows seal up the house and it will get hot in the summer."
He said there was no mention of a sound wall, however. "As I understand it," he said, "the City Council doesn't consider a sound wall to be economically feasible."
Vogan said he would schedule another meeting with the residents after he and department staff and the design team have a chance to come up with some viable options.
"Give us time to do some work and we'll get together again in mid-September," he said. "We need at least two or three weeks to come up some ideas."
Smith and others said after the meeting that they were encouraged by the city's response to their concerns and that they had a much clearer understanding of the project.