Clear, Open-Top Noise Barriers Help Ontario Ministry of Transportation Maintain View from Highway While Limiting Noise Pollution

Windsor Essex Soundwall at a distanceWindsor Essex Soundwall at a distance

When the need for noise barriers arose as part of the 2 kilometer (about 1-1/4 miles) noise barrier at the south end of The Windsor-Essex Parkway, project designers were challenged to identify aesthetic solutions.

The 5-meter-high (16-foot, 4-inch) noise barrier adjacent to the Southwood Lakes community has become a major visual element for both residents and users of the highway. The barrier effectively reduces unwanted sound and fulfills the strict requirements of the Ministry of Transportation’s noise barrier standard.

An installation of panels along the Windsor Essex Parkway with a temporary top framing piece still attachedAn installation of panels along the Windsor Essex Parkway with a temporary top framing piece still attached A closeup of the Windsor Essex Soundwall is picturedA closeup of the Windsor Essex Soundwall is pictured

Creating a barrier plan

Designers set out to create a barrier plan with minimal impact on the landscape while also addressing both driving and residential considerations. Travelers would benefit from a rhythmic and unique driving experience consisting of solid motif panels combined with transparent noise barrier panels strategically arranged along the roadway.

Residential sides of the wall would use earth tones and green hues, vegetation screening to obfuscate the barrier, and transparent panels to reduce the perceived height/visual impact of the barrier.

Inspiration for the transparent wall panels, a key element of the aesthetic design, was found within Ontario’s own borders. Already at work protecting the communities of St. Catherine’s and Fort Erie from unwanted highway noise, PARAGLAS SOUNDSTOP is a clear noise barrier material used widely worldwide including numerous projects throughout the United States and Canada.

The transparent panels allow the integration of a window like element, commonly used with traditional precast concrete panels, enhancing the visual impact of the noise barrier from both the residential and driver perspectives.

A residential soundwall with tinted brown Soundstop panels in Shiloh, Mont.A residential soundwall with tinted brown Soundstop panels in Shiloh, Mont.

“In determining what material to use in the project, two previous installations of the clear panels in both Fort Erie and St. Catharines were evaluated and used as the basis for our new ‘open-top’ design,” said Chris Blaney, senior environmental planner-acoustics, Ontario Ministry of Transportation. “The Fort Erie installation was a good trial application leading to the larger St. Catharine’s installation including nearly 3,000 square meters (about 30,000 square feet) of clear panels along the QEW highway.  Due to the visual benefits and its excellent performance to date, the same clear panels were selected to line the section of The Windsor-Essex Parkway at the end of Highway 401 entering Windsor.”

Ministry of Transportation designers involved local residents in the decision-making process through an open house to gather public comment.

“During the design and proposal stage of this project, we met with the public on barrier design possibilities, and an overwhelming majority was in favor of transparent panels,” said Dennis Regan, senior project manager, Ontario Ministry of Transportation. “Clear panels provide a wide range of benefits, including improving the view from the highway, lowering the visual intrusiveness of the barrier, reducing noise levels, and breaking up the visual monotony.  Additionally, the panels chosen for this project include discrete black line markings which serve to warn birds against flying into the otherwise clear panels.”

Following completion of public comments, final design, and bidding processes, Facca Incorporated of Windsor, Ontario was awarded the contract to complete the project.  Facca implemented the design which mixed about 900 square meters (about 10,000 square feet) of the clear noise barrier panels with nearly 9,000 square meters (about 100,000 square feet) of standard concrete panels accented with color and motifs in the planned rhythmic layout along the parkway.

Installation of the barriers was completed in the winter of 2010. They will help to provide residents with mitigation from construction noise while the state-of-the-art road is completed. The clear panels have noise reduction characteristics that are comparable to concrete panels.

“The local residents are very pleased with the protection the new barriers offer between their homes and the roadway, while still being aesthetically pleasing,” said Regan. “We look forward to an even greater response when more people are spending time outdoors in the summer months.”

The noise barrier sheet has been used in transparent noise barriers along roads and railroads around the world for more than 30 years. Installations totaled more 4 million square feet worldwide in 2010. Domestically the sheet has been featured on scores of projects including the Miami-Dade Expressway in Florida, Marquette Interchange in Milwaukee, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge connecting Maryland and Virginia, and for multiple walls in East and New Brunswick, New Jersey.

This article was contributed on behalf of Evonik Cyro LLC, which manufacturers PARAGLAS SOUNDSTOP.