Road noise riles residents Route 32: The rumble and roar of traffic costs Columbians their peace, sleep and money.

October 16, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

It's 5: 15 p.m. on a Tuesday at the Coyle residence in Columbia, and Dad has just driven up to the family's home on an ordinary cul-de-sac on Mellow Wine Way.

Already, the salad has been served. The grandparents, in from rural Pennsylvania for a visit, shuttle the children to the dining room table, as the dog, Jake, looks for handouts before retreating to the kitchen.

It's the perfect picture of quiet suburban life in James W. Rouse's 31-year-old planned community.

Except, that is, for the sound of the cars and trucks -- including 18-wheelers -- barreling past the Coyles' back yard on Route 32. During the morning and afternoon rush hours, when the windows and back door are open, traffic makes it hard to hear the doorbell or the family room TV.

In upscale River Hill, Columbia's newest village, residents have complained for years about the constant rumble of traffic from the four-lane highway that splits their community.

Homeowners, noting state highway noise readings that show

decibel levels in some areas exceed the maximum allowed by the county, have fought for sound barriers -- to no avail. They have fought for noise-mitigating mounds of earth -- with no success.

Now, with the only relief in sight a plan by the state to plant $50,000 worth of evergreen trees next spring between homes and the highway, fed-up families are devising homemade ways tohelp themselves.

Rich and Karen Coyle, for instance, recently decided to have their 8-year-old son Andrew's bedroom soundproofed -- at a cost of about $4,000. "And that's just one room," said Rich Coyle, a 36-year-old actuary for the federal government, pointing to the two newly redone walls and $800 double-paned windows.

The Coyle family moved to River Hill in 1994 -- two years before the highway replaced a two-lane road -- so Karen, 37, remembers exactly when the first dump trucks came to christen the route with dirt. "It was like reality slapping you in the face," she said.

The noise is worse on the south side of Route 32. Becky Terry's home at the end of Morning Time Lane, for which she paid $200,000 three years ago, is widely recognized throughout River Hill as the worst affected by the noise.

Terry's screened-in back porch, so close one can easily determine the make and model of cars speeding by, has been rendered virtually useless; she once tried to have a cookout there, but conversation became too difficult. Now she uses the patio just two or three times a year. "That's just in spite of it," she says as if, in using it, she's exacting revenge. "It's a nice night. I'm going to use it. I don't care how bad it is."

No matter the season, Terry, a contract specialist with a 17-year-old daughter, keeps the doors and windows closed. She uses the sound of the television -- usually Jay Leno -- to fall and stay asleep. Unless the set stays on all night, she regularly wakes up between 4 a.m.and 4: 30 a.m. when the truck traffic increases.

Tenants flee noise

Two tenants who rented Terry's finished basement have moved out, blaming the traffic. One cleared out her things while Terry was at work and left a note saying the noise affected not just her sleep, but her job performance, too.

Yes, Terry will tell you, she's familiar with the saying "Buyer beware." She admits she should have done more research before buying the house. If she had, she probably wouldn't have bought it at all. "I knew that there was a road," she explained.

But, she added, "I had no idea that it would be this bad. Stupidly, I believed my builder" when he said sound mitigators would be put in place to shelter the property from the noise.

" 'You'll never know there's a road out there,' " Terry recalls the builder telling her.

Noise limits exceeded

State and local officials concede that sound levels in River Hill already have reached the levels the State Highway Administration projected for 2015. On Terry's property in the winter, when the trees are bare and the noise is loudest, one measurement read 70 decibels -- 5 decibels louder than is allowed in the county.

A vacuum cleaner produces 80 decibels; a residential area at night, about 40.

Last month, in conjunction with Howard County and Rouse Co.,

which developed the village lots, the highway administration said it would plant more than 800 evergreens on both sides of the highway to address the problem. Officials admitted this will do little, if anything, to lessen the noise; they said the benefit would be psychological.

Sleep and value lost

For Bill Bellamy, who lives on Morning Time Lane, psychological benefits aren't good enough. He can't afford the $25,000 an engineer told him it would cost to soundproof the front part of his home. And, like Terry, who says she has lost $10,000 on the value of her property because of the noise, he's worried about the bottom line.

Not to mention his sleeping patterns. When the Bellamy family moved to Columbia a few years ago, the noise was so bad he and his wife spent the nights camped out in the back rooms with their children.

Even now, says Bellamy, "The traffic and the trucks wake us up every morning."

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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