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Elected Leaders Get Earful About I-20 Noise in Mozley Park, Commit to Action

State and local lawmakers who visited the neighborhood Wednesday said they’ll tap GDOT, federal legislators, and the governor to intervene.

Mozley Park residents discuss Interstate 20 noise pollution with state Sen. Sonya Halpern, state Rep. Mesha Mainor, and Atlanta City Council member Jason Dozier during a Sept. 13 walkthrough in the west Atlanta neighborhood. (Chauncey Alcorn/Capital B)

The roar of zooming cars and honking horns on Interstate 20 made it hard for local politicians to hear the complaints of their Mozley Park constituents as they walked through the residential neighborhood on Wednesday. 

Resident Mia Pennington used a phone app to show the lawmakers just how loud the highway noise can get. It reached 91 decibels around rush hour — noisier than lawn mowers and power drills, and loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss over an extended period of time, according to the American Academy of Audiology.

“This can’t be healthy,” Mozley Park resident Keith Palmer said as the elected leaders struggled to hear him at times.

Mozley Park residents have spent more than two years asking government officials to build a noise barrier along the interstate, which was designed in the late 1940s to serve as a “boundary” between Atlanta’s “White and Negro communities,” according to a 1960 city planning report.

Three state and local policymakers traveled to the predominantly Black, west Atlanta neighborhood Wednesday afternoon to see and hear the problem for themselves at the behest of their constituents.

Atlanta City Council member Jason Dozier, state Sen. Sonya Halpern, and state Rep. Mesha Mainor said they aren’t sure what they need to do to get a noise barrier built along I-20 at the southern border of Mozley Park, but they committed to taking action.

Mozley Park resident Keith Palmer talks to lawmakers about I-20 noise pollution in his neighborhood as vehicles whiz by. (Chauncey Alcorn/Capital B)

So far, Georgia Department of Transportation officials have refused to help, saying federal guidelines bar them from using taxpayer money to build a noise barrier unless a highway expansion project has been authorized.

Palmer asked the lawmakers to intervene, saying his grassroots organization, The Five Mile Project, has tapped leaders from other neighborhoods along I-20 to help build support for the cause.

“There’s strength in numbers,” he said. “We all have the same problem, so let’s see how we can address it.”

Halpern, a Democrat, said she’s scheduled to meet with GDOT officials about the matter before the end of the month. She said she will work to get the department to commission a decibel-level study as a first step, and will look for exceptions in the law that may permit or require the state to build a noise barrier.

“I can’t say that I have the power to change the process at GDOT,” Halpern said. “But I can say that what is in my ability to do is make sure that I am asking the questions and pushing back against the answers, and also thinking about different ways to approach it.”

I-20 is an interstate highway partly managed by GDOT, which uses federal government funding for road improvement projects.

Mainor said she will reach out to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff and Republican U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick to find funding solutions at the federal level. She also said she’d contact GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s office to see if he can help solve the problem.

Mainor is a former Democrat who recently switched parties to become a Republican. She said her new ties to the party in power at the Georgia General Assembly may help her find a solution faster.

“The Republicans are in the majority, and so this is a great opportunity for me to show them, ‘I need your help,’” she said.

Traffic noise isn’t the only problem in Mozley Park. A recently repaired chain-link fence is all that’s keeping cars from crashing through a roughly 50-foot stretch of highway that runs adjacent to a neighborhood street and a small park where pedestrians walk and congregate.

Mozley Park residents Devin Landers, Cheron Pitchford, and Tresler Hodge were also at the meeting along with Dr. Jasmine Hope, who serves as chair of the local NPU.

Landers said the lack of lighting along Gordon Terrace SW near Racine Street also compels local residents to steer clear from the road at night.

“We get prostitution, we get crime, we get gunshots,” he said.

Hope works at Emory University in predominantly white Druid Hills, where there’s a sound barrier along I-20. She said she sees the differences between the Black neighborhood where she lives and the white neighborhood where she works every day when she travels on the highway. 

“The history of I-20, the racial motivation behind that, and to see it to this day in 2023, it is very disheartening for me,” she said. “It’s like a reminder of who I am. Even with my credentials, etc., this is where I live. So it does impact me.”

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