SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 27, 2007

Route 128 neighbors making noise for some peace and quiet

Alan Burke, Staff Writer

Video by Mark Lorenz/Staff Photographer

PEABODY -- When the world around you gets too loud and too dirty -- ever want to wall yourself off from it?

A group of Peabody residents seeks to do exactly that. They live beside one of the nosiest, dirtiest places in the city -- Route 128 just west of Lowell Street. Led by activist Gayle Barr, they drew 25 people to a meeting at the Arboretum condominiums on Monday, seeking construction of a noise barrier between them and a road that never seems to sleep.

"Join me in a group assault," Barr told the supportive audience. "We are up against very difficult odds in trying to make this happen." The residents are inspired by the fact that it already is happening not too far away along Route 128 in Lynnfield, where a towering stucco fence is being erected by MassHighway on both sides of the road.

On the other hand, after all the efforts that have been made here in Peabody, the reason that the state decided to build that fence in Lynnfield was the source of more local frustration. Simply put -- it was on the list. In some sections, noted some frustrated Peabody residents, there are only trees and woods behind the fence.

Chuck Moody of Henry Terrace in Peabody, has lived in the neighborhood 20 years, his backyard facing the southbound lane of the highway. (For reasons not entirely clear to the activists, a wooden barrier was erected alongside the northbound lane many years ago.)

"It's more annoying all the time," Moody said, raising his voice over the rising din of hundreds of passing vehicles. "We don't open the windows."

In fact, storm windows remain in place year-round. Moody's backyard is picture-perfect with a thick lawn and a garden with lovingly tended flowers. He erected a white fence to try and keep out the racket. "And it cost $5,000."

It didn't do much, he said. The neighbors never come to visit. His kids, before they left home, mostly stayed inside. One particular annoyance is new rumble strips along the highway meant to wake up drowsy drivers.

"It's ear-piercing," said another resident, George Cunha. As if the roar of the traffic coming and going isn't bad enough, he said. The unearthly whine of the rumble strips can keep him awake in the middle of the night. To make his point, Cunha has recorded the sounds from the highway, and he played them at the meeting. "Wait for the motorcycle," he advised as a roar louder than the rest of the traffic faded in and then faded out.

Kate Ahearn, who lives in the Arboretum, hears the noise on her deck and in her condo. "I call 911 all the time. You hear the screech. And then the crunch." A specific driver makes himself heard regularly, around 10:30, she said.

"Oh," Barr said with a nod, "with the music."

Strength in numbers

Unhappy neighbors have mounted efforts in the past to have someone | the federal government, the state or the city | erect a noise barrier. Cunha carries yellowed copies of The Salem Evening News from nearly 20 years ago documenting his campaign then. Others recalled more recent efforts -- each hit a metaphorical brick wall.

For her part, Barr has been carefully marshaling this effort, beginning more than a year ago. She's visited the appropriate government officials and conferred with top managers at MassHighway. A nurse, her concerns include the health effects of all the pollution accompanying the noise and floating unimpeded into her neighborhood.

Outlining the obstacles the group faces, Barr explained that federal dollars are vital in erecting a barrier -- estimated to cost $4 million per mile. The problem here is that the federal highway, I-95, leaves Route 128 and heads north just before it gets to the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the state is using a 1988 study to prioritize which sections of highway should have noise barriers. Which is where Lynnfield comes in. It was put on the list at that time. State Rep. Joyce Spiliotis, who attended the Monday meeting, insisted that Lynnfield did nothing to obtain the wall -- it was simply Lynnfield's turn.

"I don't think we even exist on that priority list," Barr said.

"Even if you're on the list," Spiliotis said, "it took Lynnfield 20 years."

The group is determined to increase its numbers. Barr is collecting signatures. The noise is only getting worse as the years go by, and the number of cars on the road increase, she said. "I want people to get aroused. I want people to get activated here."

Spiliotis agreed. Numbers count.

While Barr seemed to dismiss the role of the city, Mayor Michael Bonfanti was more optimistic.

"I'll listen," he said. "We can always take a look and see if there's a grant available."

Less optimistic was MassHighway spokesman Erik Abell, who told The Salem News that a new list of priority sites for noise barriers will be created -- as soon as the state finishes with the 53 it already has.