, Newburyport, MA

September 13, 2013

Our view: State should install sound barriers

Newburyport Daily News

---- — The Daily News opined on this issue months ago, and today we repeat our plea — the state ought to erect new sound barriers along the Newburyport stretch of Interstate 95 that is currently being widened.

Months ago, during public hearings, the state made clear that it would not build sound barriers along a section of the highway in Newburyport that is in close proximity to homes. It would instead move and reuse the 40-year-old concrete barriers that line the highway now. The decision didn’t sit well with neighbors, and now, as the project heads into its construction phase, the neighbors, city officials and our state lawmakers are renewing their efforts to change the state highway department’s mind.

The logic used by the state was that there are not enough homes in the area exposed to enough noise to merit the building of the sound barriers. The state uses a formula to mathematically determine where the barriers should go, based on housing density and expected noise.

The crucial factor that the state formula does not seem to adequately consider is the impact caused by the enormous loss of trees and brush that lined the highway for decades. It is shocking to see the amount of clear-cutting that this project has caused along the eastern side of I-95 in both Newburyport and Amesbury. The swath is about 30 feet wide.

That swath of trees and brush served as a visual and sound barrier for neighbors of the highway. Suddenly, highway noise has increased, as has the sight of passing cars. It will only get worse when the highway is widened to four lanes in each direction, plus a bike/pedestrian lane (it is currently three lanes in each direction).

In the past few years we have seen sound barriers erected in dense urban areas near Boston, in places where roads have undergone work, yet the highway itself has not been significantly widened. Here in Newburyport, the highway is being widened by over 30 percent, dramatically changing the landscape along the highway right-of-way. This would seem to be a compelling reason to make an exception to the state’s formula.

A meeting was to be held Monday at Newburyport City Hall to talk about this subject with state highway officials. It has been postponed, but will hopefully be rescheduled very soon.

When completed, this project will be a showcase for Massachusetts. We will have a new highway and new bridge crossing a beautiful stretch of the Merrimack River. On one side of the bridge, motorists will see a sight that they won’t see anywhere else in the state — a pedestrian/bicycle pathway that will no doubt be in constant use. It will be a very positive “branding spot” for our region, and a dramatic gateway for travelers coming from the north.

The state’s engineers and highway department can be proud of what they are creating. They ought to find a way to put the extra effort in to erect state-of-the-art sound barriers, to finish this project correctly.