, Newburyport, MA

May 6, 2014

Our view: Highway abutters deserve better treatment

Newburyport Daily News

---- — The Interstate 95 bridge project holds many long-term promises for the greater Newburyport area, but in the short term we are seeing serious problems that the public was not prepared for. Now, we are seeing the consequences.

There are two in particular that have been in the news of late, both with similar causes. On the Newburyport side of the bridge, neighbors in the Laurel Road and Pine Hill Road neighborhood have been living with near-constant noise and disruption. Their homes are near the highway, and the noise and vibration caused by work on the Pine Hill Road/Ferry Road bridge has made life miserable for many of them. Work has been ongoing from 7 a.m. on through the wee hours of the morning. Sleep has been impossible for some; others have said their homes have suffered foundation cracks. The work will continue for many weeks, in various stages.

Mayor Donna Holaday held a meeting last week to have the issues vented, and state officials have met with the neighbors. But the problems continue on, and neighbors feel that they are not being heard, and never really have been heard. Months ago they asked that the state erect a sound barrier; that request was denied because it was deemed that the highway noise would not hit the levels required to trigger the need for one.

On the Amesbury side of the river, it’s a more personal matter. It got so bad, the state shut down the entire worksite in order to deal with an inexcusable insult directed at the Taylor family on Main Street.

The Taylor family has a condo that is about 10 feet from the highway right-of-way, and what had for years been a thick stand of trees is now a highway under construction. A massive girder looms directly next to their home. Vehicles, machinery, dirt — they are all virtually in their living room. The work, which starts at 7 a.m. and continues into the night, has made their homelife miserable. Indeed, when a Daily News reporter stopped by during a relative lull to interview the family, he was surprised to see that the glass doors inside the fireplace were shaking. That was nothing compared to other problems the family says it has witnessed.

The family’s complaints, reported in The Daily News, resulted in retribution by a worker or workers on the site. In response to a comment by Mr. Taylor calling the situation akin to living in Fallujah, someone scrawled “Welcome to Fallujah, Baby!” on a girder next to their home. Another worker was fired when he lost control of a massive beam that was being maneuvered into place; the beam almost struck their home.

State Rep. Michael Costello, state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives and Mayor Ken Gray have been attentive to their problems. Costello and O’Connor Ives have called upon the state to take the Taylors’ home by eminent domain, something the Taylors want to see happen, as the value and quality of life have plummeted.

Many months ago the Taylors and others had asked the state to take their properties, but they were denied. Perhaps now things will change. We feel the Taylors’ wishes should be met.

Other stories and anecdotes are beginning to trickle in from homeowners who live along the local I-95 corridor. It’s clear that there will be more tales of inconvenience and misery as the project moves forward.

Some may argue caveat emptor — let the buyer beware. When buying a home near a highway, you can expect highway-related problems. But we suspect that no one could have anticipated the size and scope of the project that is underway now.

The bridge over the Merrimack River is being completely demolished and replaced. Hundreds of trees that buffered noise and light are gone. The highway is being widened, and the location of the roadway is being altered to meet the location of the new bridges. The net effect is the road is being moved far closer to homes than it had ever been.

It’s become increasingly clear that no one understood how much this project would impact people who live near the I-95 corridor. As these individual cases of hardship emerge, we think the state should do its utmost to sympathize and solve the problems, whether that means putting people up in temporary homes, repairing damage or taking properties that have lost substantial value.