Working with JBM Solutions, Crest Precast Concrete delivers 5,000 absorptive, wood-fiber precast concrete sound wall panels for a massive Wisconsin interchange project.
By Mason Nichols
For residents who live near or adjacent to highways, sound can be a major nuisance. The most common noise-abatement solution is the addition of sound walls, which work by absorbing soundwaves or reflecting them away from homes. According to Jerry McNeal, owner of JBM Solutions, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has turned to absorptive precast concrete sound walls as the product of choice for major projects.
“The Wisconsin DOT determined 30 years ago that absorptive walls have a big advantage because sooner or later a highway will have walls on both sides,” he said. “When this happens, sound will bounce back and forth, increasing in volume until it actually escapes over the top.”
But absorptive walls act as a sponge, soaking up the sound waves to greatly reduce or even eliminate noise. For this reason, the Wisconsin DOT partnered with JBM Solutions, Crest Precast Concrete of La Crescent, Minn., and Walsh Construction on the Milwaukee Zoo Interchange project. In 2018, the project team finished setting nearly 200,000 square feet of JBM75, a licensed precast concrete sound wall product featuring a specialized mix design that includes wood fibers.
This project was much larger in scope than Crest’s typical sound wall work. But thanks to a decade-long relationship with JBM Solutions, both companies were confident in their work and in absorptive precast concrete sound walls as the optimal solution. According to Gary Mader, vice president of Crest Precast Concrete, a typical day included the installation of 60-120 precast panels.
With 5,000 panels to place, this could have presented a logistical issue, but the team worked closely together to ensure success.
“Because the panels had to be set consecutively, we shipped them in numerical order,” Mader said. “Then, when delivery took place, the panels weren’t placed on the ground. They were installed directly off the truck.”
Kevin Thicke, drafter for Crest Precast Concrete, explained that the panels each have a DNA pattern on the front with a random ashlar appearance on the back. As a result, the wall is as aesthetically pleasing as it is effective at mitigating noise.
“After the project finished, I interviewed a resident who was very happy with the result,” Mader said. “As a manufacturer of sound wall products, hearing that we accomplished our goal is the greatest compliment we can receive.”
Though installation is simple, achieving high-quality results is not. That’s why, as McNeal explained, JBM Solutions and Crest Precast make such a great team. Over the years, the two organizations have worked closely together – staying in constant contact – to continuously enhance and perfect the product. The result is a durable, effective solution for Milwaukee-area residents that makes life a little quieter.
Mason Nichols is a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based writer and editor who has covered the precast concrete industry since 2013.