Sounding off: Mom fears highway will be too loud for autistic son

Sounding off: Mom fears highway will be too loud for autistic son

VANCOUVER, Wash. – The mother of an autistic boy next to the Vancouver Highway project fears for her 6-year-old son’s health and wants to know why her neighborhood is not getting the same protection they see others getting.

Dylan Dodge's autism causes him to be sensitive to loud sounds.

That's why for the first time in state history the Washington Department of Transportation relocated Dylan and his family from their Vancouver home while the state built a new $45 million interchange next to their house.

The project on state Highway 500 and St. Johns Boulevard will improve the drive for 55,000 vehicles a day.

And when construction comes to an end, the state will move Dylan's family back in.

But when Dylan's mother, Melissa, came back to check on things she found a new offramp that cuts incredibly close to her house. There's only a whisper of dirt between the state's guardrail and the family's home. An aerial photo taken before construction shows there used to be a hillside dotted with trees.

Neighbors to the west got a new sound wall to protect them from noise, but there's nothing to protect the Dodge family and their neighbors.

"When I bought my home 10 years ago, you can see the freeway is way over there. It wasn't right here in our yard. I didn't have children at the time," Melissa said. "I didn't fear someone was going to run off the road, texting and driving, drunk driving – and land in my house."

Don Wagner, the head of the Department of Transportation Southwest Washington sympathizes with the Dodges. But he says their neighborhood doesn't qualify for an extension of the sound wall for two reasons.

One: the road is not loud enough. Sound walls come into play when noise is at 67 decibels. According to the state, the Dodge's neighborhood is only at 64.

Two: It would cost taxpayers a quarter million dollars to build 500 more feet of wall, Wagner said.

It would also not meet the state's threshold, meaning it would benefit far too few people.

Several years ago, it was a similar story for neighbors on Highway 212 in Beaverton.

According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, the total cost for a sound wall to protect those families would have been more than $300,000.

ODOT also looked at the cost per home. It was deemed affordable if it cost $25,000 and in some cases up to $35,000. But for neighbors in Beaverton, ODOT said it would have to spend more than $40,000 per residence. So the residents were out of luck.

In Vancouver, the DOT says the new raised offramp just outside the Dodge’s door actually acts like a wall to block sound from the highway and says its studies show life at the Dodge's home will actually be quieter than it was before.

"Which seems counterintuitive until you look at the design," Wagner said.

But Melissa Dodge still worries about her son's health and safety – and her property value – within their new reality.

"I don't understand how they can justify it," she said.

Washington DOT says it will build a six foot tall chain-link fence between the Dodge's home and the offramp and do some landscaping.