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The years-long effort to widen Catlin Street will include an 8-foot “sound wall” along one block — a federal requirement that some West Kelso residents said they appreciate but a neighboring business owner says could change the neighborhood’s character.

“I look around Cowlitz County and I can’t think of anything like this anywhere. It’s just much more akin to a Vancouver or Portland treatment,” said Pat Palmer, who owns Copies Today at 403 Catlin St., across the street from the planned wall.

The $100,000 sound wall, which is meant to block traffic noise, will stretch along the south side of Catlin Street from Fourth to Fifth avenues. It will be on the residential side of the sidewalk.

It is part of the effort to widen Catlin Street between Cowlitz Way and the West Main intersection to five lanes — two lanes each way with a center turn lane. The project will also include two left turns from Ocean Beach Highway onto Cowlitz Way. It will cost about $11 million and is covered almost entirely with state and federal grants.

The location of the wall was identified in a study required to get federal funding, Kelso Community Development Director Michael Kardas said. These types of structures are rare for Kelso because the city doesn’t often “substantially” widen roads, he said.

Kardas said he hasn’t heard many complaints about the wall. Residents seem to view it as an “asset” because it will block traffic noise, he said.

One nearby resident, who asked to be identified simply as Mike, said Wednesday the wall allays his initial fears that widening Catlin Street would make his neighborhood noisy. It will block noise from loud motorcycles, he said.

Joy Mage, whose house will be on the corner of Catlin and Fourth Avenue when the widening work is complete, said traffic has increased dramatically during her 16 years of residency there. The sound wall “might not be a bad thing,” she said, and she wishes it would extend to her block — the one between Fourth and Third avenues.

Palmer, owner of Copies Today, said the wall could cause drivers to speed. Now, they slow down in case children or pets run out, he said. A wall would reduce that concern.

He added that the wall will do little to block noise because it only covers a short stretch of the street.

“What makes it odd for me is the placement of the sound wall in one block,” Palmer said. “I’m not seeing it. But then again, I don’t design cities.”

When asked if he thinks the wall will change sound levels, Palmer grinned and responded, “Yeah. It will come this way,” pointing away from the proposed wall towards his business, indicating an echo effect.

Another nearby resident, who did not want to be identified, said the wall could look “trashy” if people paint graffiti all over it.

“Aesthetically, it won’t look great,” he said.

He added that it seems like businesses are closing as a result of the two-phase West Main Realignment, which he thought was intended in part to spur economic growth.

Widening Catlin Street is the second phase of the $20 million West Main Realignment, which was discussed for years and began in earnest a decade ago. When it’s complete, Kelso will have contributed about $2 million, Kardas said. The rest is grant-funded.

The broad goal was to create a more direct link from Ocean Beach Highway to the Allen Street Bridge by redirecting vehicles onto Catlin Street and away from West Main Street.

Designs for the Catlin Street phase are 95% completed. The city will put the project out to bid once it finishes negotiating with three homeowners — possibly as early as March, Kardas said. Construction would likely take at least six months.

“I know some folks have some strong feelings, but this has been an identified regional project for almost 20 years,” Kardas said. “We should finish it next year, unless we go really late; 20 years from the original study, we’ll have the project. That’s kind of how long it takes to bring some of these really projects to completion.”

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