Barrier of trees to battle road noise River Hill complaints about traffic to be met -- with evergreens

September 29, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Residents of Columbia's upscale River Hill village have complained for years about noise pollution from nearby Route 32. Passing 18-wheel trucks make their windows shake, they say, and the constant rumble of traffic makes it hard to enjoy dinner conversation on their decks and patios.

Last night, state and county officials publicly unveiled at least part of their solution: Vegetation, and lots of it.

Christopher J. McCabe, a Republican state senator from the 14th District, and Charlie Adams, the State Highway Administration's director of environmental design, outlined to the River Hill Village Board and more than 50 concerned residents their plan to plant more than $50,000 worth of evergreen trees on both sides of the four-lane highway to help address the noise problem.

But money for trees, it turns out, isn't exactly what River Hill residents had in mind.

"I think it's the state's attempt to put a Band-Aid on a big problem and hope it'll go away," said Kendall Echols, who claims to hear every car and truck passing on Route 32 from inside his house on Angel Rose Court -- with the windows shut.

"The state and the developer failed the residents of this community," he said, "and are unwilling to rectify the mistakesthat they made."

In some areas of River Hill, the noise meets or exceeds the maximum decibel level as laid out in the county's sound ordinance, according to measurements taken by the state.

Democratic County Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, who attended last night's meeting at the River Hill Community Center, said the county has agreed to spend about $15,000 for the plantings.

Under a tentative agreement, the state and the Rouse Co. will also contribute to the purchase of more than 800 evergreens, likely to be planted in the spring to the east and west of Great Star Drive.

Many village residents -- concerned about even more noise should the state go ahead with its plan to expand Route 32 from two lanes to four between Route 108 and Interstate 70 -- have suggested sound barriers, which can cost as much as $1.5 million a mile, as a means to lessen the sound of passing traffic.

But Adams, of the SHA, said River Hill doesn't qualify for assistance under the state's sound barrier program because the houses there were built after the state had completed its environmental impact studies for Route 32. "I can't stand here tonight and put that offer on the table," he said.

Adams concedes that the trees, which could take more than five years to mature, will provide residents little, if any, relief from the noise. The idea behind the "screens" of vegetation is simply to provide homeowners with a kind of visual buffer -- a psychological buffer -- instead.

Without the option of sound barriers, at least in the short term, residents are shifting their focus toward another goal: having their community included in the environmental impact study the SHA is completing on the Route 32 expansion.

Josh Heltzer, vice chairman of the River Hill Village Board and head of an ad-hoc "noise committee," has submitted such a request to SHA, but has not received a definitive response.

Adams and McCabe noted that it would be inconsistent with precedent to allow a community outside the geographic boundaries of the expansion project to be involved in a discussion of "downstream" traffic impact, but residents intend to write letters and make calls toward that end anyway.

Jonathan Schultz, an outspoken proponent of sound barriers whose back yard on Angel Rise Court is about 100 yards from the highway, jokes to his children that they've moved to the beach and what they're hearing outside is the sound of waves crashing on the shore.

He and his family like to have dinner on their backyard deck, he said, but sometimes the noise makes conversation difficult. Even from inside the house, Schultz said, "it sounds sort of like a train terminal because there's a constant rumble."

Pub Date: 9/29/98

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