Need a sound barrier? Plenty of rules apply


Traffic Talk

April 10, 2005|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LAST WEEK'S column on sound barriers prompted Jack Robinson to wonder whether sound barriers were destined for his neighborhood -- the new Emerson village springing up along Interstate 95, near Route 216.

"My wife and I recently moved into our new home in the Emerson community," he said. "Do you know of any plans to add sound barriers on 216 along the east and west sides of the 216 and 95 intersection, and along the stretch of 95 that borders the Emerson community?"

I'm not aware of any plans, and without a specific address, State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck could not answer the questions. I forwarded contact information to Mr. Robinson so he could get an answer from SHA directly.

But under what conditions would a noise barrier be warranted?

Buck directed me to SHA's Web site, for the general criteria.

Buck noted that the noise-barrier policy covers two types of barriers: those for new construction such as the widening along Route 216; and those for existing highways, such as I-95.

"There are general eligibility criteria that must be met for both types of barriers and additional criteria for each of the two types of barriers," he said. The new barriers along Route 216 near the Emerson community, according to Buck, are part of the widening of Route 216 to benefit the homes affected by the widening of the road.

According to SHA's Web site, a basic requirement for both types of barriers include road-generated noise levels equal to or exceeding 66 decibels. It is worth noting that, according to the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, most lawn mowers and motorcycles operate at 90 decibels (although I would hazard that some motorcycles are significantly louder than that). City traffic averages 80 decibels. It is also worth noting that prolonged exposure to 90 decibels eventually will harm your hearing.

But SHA's Web site also warns that the sound barrier, once constructed, must be able to reduce noise levels by seven to 10 decibels at the most severely affected homes, must cost not more than $50,000 per home, and at least 75 percent of the homeowners that benefit have to want a barrier. There are other eligibility requirements, as well.

I don't think it is reasonable to expect residents to know whether their homes meet these requirements. Who knows how much it costs to erect a sound barrier? My advice is to contact SHA for answers: Charlie Adams, director, Office of Environmental Design, Mailstop C-303, 707 North Calvert St., Baltimore 21202.

Centennial aggravation

"I am frequently subjected to close calls when leaving my neighborhood due to a combination of aggressive driving and what I believe is flawed road design," said Noel Hall of the Centennial neighborhood. He recommended additional signage as one way to make the intersection of Centennial Lane and Century Drive safer. His specific concern is the turn/deceleration lane off Centennial Lane northbound onto Century Drive eastbound.

"A high percentage of travelers on Centennial Lane seem to think this turn lane is the beginning of an additional travel lane, and I often find myself directly in the path of a vehicle traveling towards me at 40-50 mph as I wait at the stop sign of Century, awaiting an opportunity to turn onto Centennial," he said. "Recently, there was an incident where the driver narrowly missed hitting me but instead struck the curb and the vehicle they were attempting to pass on Centennial.

"As I live on Century Drive, I am always in the position of nearly being struck by these drivers. The turn/deceleration appears to be an opening travel lane to the driver that is beginning the climb up the hill towards the intersection. It is not until they near the crest of the hill and are approximately 100 feet from the intersection that they [realize they] are about to hit a curb, possibly a fire hydrant, stop sign or other vehicle," he said.

Mr. Hall also noted that he had submitted his concerns to county officials three times in the past couple of months but received no response.

I forwarded his concerns to Mark DeLuca, chief of traffic engineering for Howard County, who applauded Mr. Hall's efforts in documenting the situation. (Mr. Hall's original e-mail to me and the one which I forwarded to the county included a detailed description of the problem, as well as several photos.)

"We will place additional markings and signage to clarify the proper use of the right-turn-only lane. The markings will include extending the right-turn-only lane with lane markings, painting right-turn arrows on the lane and installing a right-only sign in advance of Century Drive," he said.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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