Building and maintaining our highways is expensive. But here’s a quiz: On Interstates 95 and 84, what costs a half-million dollars a mile to construct? The answer: sound barriers.
Why are we spending that kind of money to enshroud our interstates simply to protect the peace and quiet of neighbors? Didn’t they know living close to a highway came with increased noise and air pollution?
Do you have sympathy for people who live near airports and complain about the jets? Neither do I. But the solution to highway noise is not to create a walled canyon paid by others.
Sound barriers, in my view, are a waste of precious resources. They don’t reduce accidents, improve safety or do anything about congestion, and they’re a magnet for graffiti artists. Three miles of sound barriers on both sides of an interstate would buy another M8 railcar for Metro-North, and take 100 passengers off the state’s highways.
Worse yet, sound barriers reflect the sound, not absorb it, sending the noise further afield.
But there are alternatives:
Why not soundproof the homes? That has worked well for neighbors of big airports and would be a lot cheaper than miles of sound barriers. Insulation against sound insulates against energy loss, saving money.
Rubberized asphalt. Let’s reduce the highway noise at its source, literally where the “rubber meets the road.” Using the latest in rubberized asphalt, some highways have seen a 12-decibel reduction in noise. Rubberized asphalt, as its name implies, is made from old tires … about 12 million a year that would otherwise be junked.
Pay for it yourself. Create special taxing zones in noisy neighborhoods and let those homeowners pay for their sound barriers. They’re the ones who are benefiting, so shouldn’t they be the ones who pay? That investment will easily be recouped in increased property values.
Penalize the noise makers. Let’s crack down on truckers who “Jake brake,” downshifting noisily to slow their speed instead of using their real brakes. Motorcyclists or cars with busted mufflers, they too should be penalized.
Go electric. Electric cars are virtually silent. There are electronic ways of using noise-cancellation technology that, on a large scale, can induce quiet at a lower price than building wooden barricades.
Go absorbent. Where there is room, erect earthen berms alongside the highway which will absorb the sound. Or if you are constructing sound barriers, fill them with sound absorbing material, treating the noise like a sponge, not bouncing it off a hard, flat reflective surface.
Our interstates, especially I-95, are carrying far more traffic than they were ever planned to handle. There is no sign of it decreasing. In Fairfield County, the rush hour starts about 6 a.m. and runs continuously until 8 p.m.
If our state’s economy depends on these highways, we will have to live with the karmic cost of a little noise. But if it’s too much to take, why ask others to pay for its remediation when they are the only ones benefiting from spending?
Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 25 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group and also serves on the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com
Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.