When Fairland resident Sally Hunt walks her dog each morning, she says it sounds like she’s on a “runway that a jet’s ready to take off” on.
That “jet” is traffic on the nearby Intercounty Connector, an 18-mile highway that connects Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and travels behind the homes of residents in her community. The ICC accommodates 34,000 vehicles on the west end and about 24,000 on the east end each weekday, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.
“My husband never wanted to leave my house in the 29 years that we’ve been here,” said Hunt of the noise. “And he’s thinking about moving now.”
Hunt is not alone. The Fairland Estates Civic Association hosted ICC representatives July 11 to discuss their concerns that a larger sound barrier is needed for their neighborhood. The sound wall in place stretches from just west of Columbia Pike in Burtonsville to just before the large bridge over the Paint stream, about 500 feet from the last house on the cul-de-sac of Parallel Lane in Silver Spring. Residents say the wall is not long enough and does not take into account trajectory sound that bounces off the barrier back into their community.
Areas qualify for noise walls if the traffic noise at their residence is at least 67 decibels —comparable to just louder than a normal conversation at three feet away — or if the noise level is going to be greater than 10 decibels above the ambient, or background, noise level, according to Robert Shreeve, the deputy director for the Office of the ICC at the State Highway Administration. He said the wall currently in place lowers the noise about seven to nine decibels from the traffic side to the residential side.
In addition to decibels, the placement of the barrier is based off square footage per benefitted resident, said Charlie Gischlar, a SHA spokesman.
“Their complaint is that the noise coming from the bridge that goes over the Paint Branch stream is loud and it’s a different frequency from the noise of the rest of the road, but the noise coming off of the bridge isn’t any louder than the rest of it,” Shreeve said.
Ray Feldmann, media relations manager for the ICC, said the sound studies were conducted during the planning phase before construction for the ICC by putting censors in various places and neighborhoods to record decibels in those areas. According to the SHA, short-term ambient measurements were recorded during 20-minute intervals on weekdays between October 2003 and October 2004 in areas along the ICC corridors between Interstates 270 and 95. The average reading at each of those locations was used to project sound readings for the year 2030 to determine which areas were in need of a sound barrier.
Shreeve said sound studies are not customarily re-conducted after a road is built, and there will not be additional sound studies in the area.
“They don’t qualify under any of the rules beyond what they have right now,” said Shreeve. “Federal and state noise guidelines are very stringent about what conditions you have to have to get a noise wall, and how much that noise wall is allowed to do and what you’re not allowed to do. We have met all of those requirements.”
But residents argue the sound projections were inaccurate. Fairland Estates Civic Association President Scott Mitchell thinks the numbers projected for 2030 did not take into account the trajectory of sound that bounces off of the barrier back into the community because the studies were done before the sound walls were built.
Mitchell said the civic association wants a sound study done in real time instead of using projected numbers and is turning to its elected officials for help.
“We have a political action committee taking a look at the possibilities of contacting our representatives, which ones are willing to stay up to the place on this particular problem and work with us,” Mitchell said. “We are really just trying to see what we can do to be good neighbors with the ICC. We just want them to do as much as they can to mitigate whatever problems come up because of it.”
Richard Weismiller lives next to the sound wall that already is in place, and he said he hears a “considerable amount of noise” from the nearby bridge over the Paint Branch.
“When you are in the neighborhood walking, particularly on creek-side, it’s like a tunnel bringing the noise through that area,” said Weismiller, a 30-year resident. “The road isn’t going to close, so we would like to, in the early years, try to get some way to dampen some of the noise coming into our neighborhood.”
Fairland Estates is not the only group trying to reduce noise. The Colesville ICC Noise Concern Group was formed by residents from four neighborhoods — Audubon Woods, Drumeldra Hills, Stonegate and Three Meadows, all in Silver Spring — who are along the Colesville corridor stretch of the ICC that contains the longest elevated section of the highway through residential areas with two bridges that together produce more noise than the SHA forecasted.
Councilwoman Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring has supported the ICC Noise group by writing to SHA on their behalf.