Sound (barrier) arguments? Not so much.


Jim Cameron makes some interesting arguments against sound barriers.  It is a shame that most of his assertions are factually wrong, not backed by science nor economically sound.

I will start with his question, “Do you have sympathy for people who move near airports?  He does not, so I assume he is deaf to the situation of middle- and lower-income people.  People don’t choose to live by noise, most of the time it is an economic necessity.  Further, today many of those who now hear noise from the interstate highways like I-95, did not hear this a decade ago.  When I-95 cut through the most populated towns in Connecticut in 1958, the traffic was a fraction of today and today’s 150,000 cars that enter from New York on I-95 daily is two and a half times the number two decades ago.

Does Cameron have sympathy for people in flood zones? Here in Fairfield many flood zones are mostly occupied with waterfront mansions or mansions.  My Google search did not turn up an article by Cameron complaining about the repeated bailout of the rich after every hurricane or tropical storm.  How many rail cars does a billion buy?

That aside. Let’s address his issues with noise barriers:

First, he wants the people who benefit from noise barriers to pay.  That is exactly what happens.  Houses near noise go up in value and assessments according to an almost universal model between value and each decibel of noise reduction.  Further, after a few years, the cost of noise remediation pays back the investment and since some remediation can last up to 20 years, the additional taxes can reduce tax rates, fund public transportation or schools — whatever the community wants.

So I agree with Cameron, let those who benefit pay.  I agree, but the manner he presents the argument leads one to believe we will not and it’s a transfer of wealth.  He is ill-informed on the issue since the research and the actual experience of property prices in areas where noise remediation is implemented is solid.

As for graffiti. This is a false argument.  It is a scare tactic.   I have lived in Connecticut since 2005 and I have yet to see graffiti on any sound barrier in the area.

What Cameron does not talk about are the positive health and well-being sound barriers bring to communities and schools. Noise is a not-so silent killer (AFib is a biggie) and it has a negative impact on learning, hence possibly perpetuating educational achievement and lower earning power for those that live by the noisiest areas.

Cameron also does not address the increase in traffic which has occurred over time.  Amazon is not shipping by rails and since most highway noise is from tires, more trucks with bigger tires with deeper grooves equals more noise.  Wider tires equal more noise. Run-flat tires equal more noise.  The modern car has a quieter engine but more noisy tires.  Even electric vehicles make noise over 20 miles an hour because their tires displace air.

As for air pollution, according to the CDC, noise barriers, not quiet pavement, cut down the amount of particulate matter (PM2.5) by 50%. PM2.5 is the stuff that kills you and causes an increase in the number of cases of childhood asthma.  It also travels for miles from the highway, so while those near the highway will pay for this improvement in air, communities’ miles away will benefit.  I am sure those who live near highways are willing to give Cameron, his elite friends and the Long Island Sound, this benefit for free.

Finally with regards to sound barriers, Europe and parts of the U.S. are using transparent sound barriers which allow natural light through.  Yes, wood barriers are bad and that is why no department of transportation uses them anymore.  The Connecticut DOT exclusively uses concrete.

There are alternatives to noise barriers and if Connecticut would shift from using asphalt mixed with recycled roofing shingles to asphalt mixed with recycled tires, there is a reduction in sound.   It’s not 12 decibels as Mr. Cameron claims, but it is part of a solution that mixes noise reducing asphalt, sound barriers, and noise reducing bridge joints to create a quieter environment that protects the health and well-being of all Connecticut residents, rich or poor.   We could insulate peoples’ house better, but don’t the children want to play outdoors? Isn’t that part of what having a healthy childhood is about?

Unfortunately, Cameron should have done his research, because he would have realized that our state is one of the few that has yet to incorporate noise remediation in Type II and Type III projects.

Mr. Cameron, an extra rail car will not reduce noise and air quality in any significant way.


Greg Piccininno is President of  stop95noise.org, a local group committed to changing the way Connecticut deals with noise pollution so that our state can compete with our neighbor states in quality-of-life matters.   


6 responses to “Sound (barrier) arguments? Not so much.”

  1. Norwalk High Neighbor

    You make good points as well. I can attest to the amount of graffiti that was plauging a section some years ago but CT DOT was very responsive with painting it over within days. So it was a concern by was dealt with. Mosnter tires on Jeeps and pick-ups are the worst; especially since a majority of those “show” vehicles never leave the paved highway. I certainly don’t want my taxes going to something that I really don’t benefit from – and actually have had my quality of life decrease through increased noise and dead trees which I attribute to pollution. I also beleve we woefully lag in rail development and think the whole rail system Management of the Tri-State regional autorities needs to be flushed. Prices go up – service goes down. It seems to me that you both want to address the noise and transportation issues but have differant means of getting there. Ever think of working together? Or are you from differant political parties?

  2. David Muccigrosso

    So wonderful that you had the opportunity to sandbag Mr. Cameron. I wonder if he’ll get the same honorable chance for a rebuttal.

  3. Piberman

    Kudos for highway sound barriers. I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed the “benefits” of living adjacent to a busy highway. Any more than anyone who enjoyed living in an apartment next to an elevated train in a major City. Lets focus our limited energies on real issues such as why its so challenging to teach our kids math and science skills needed for our hi-tech world. And why most of our high school grads are not securing 4 yr college degrees and leaving CT for better jobs elsewhere. And why its so hard to lower taxes so large firms can bring good jobs to our CT. We can let the green enthusiasts beat the drums for expensive electric cars most of us can’t afford. And BTW most of CT’s electricity comes from natural gas which isn’t “so green”.

  4. Brian

    I would STRONGLY implore the author to drive on I-95 South between Exit 17 and 16 – look to the right and see all of the wooden sound barriers with years of graffiti – some of it covered-up, some of it still visible. Caution, it may shock him since he’s lived in CT since 2005 and somehow has never seen graffiti along our highways. He must live and drive in a bubble because every highway I am on has graffiti along the sides… Just saying – don’t make ignorant comments like that with no proof to show. At least here is proof to back my statement unlike the author….

  5. Mike Mushak

    This is a subjective piece of writing, full of dubious claims about the benefits of sound barriers.

    First, Jim Cameron’s piece published here on NON, which is what this author is responding to, also has a dubious claim.

    Cameron claims sound barriers cost a half million per mile. Most official sources claim an actual cost of $2 million per mile. Big difference. And I’m not sure how Cameron got to his claim of 3 miles of sound barriers paying for one M-8 rail car (which costs about $4 million),
    but his point is well taken. At a cost of $2 million a mile, it would take just 2 miles of sound barrier to pay for one rail car.

    Second, this author claims sound barriers reduce air pollution. That is a bizarre claim, as the sound barriers don’t contain or filter air in any way. If anything, the sound barriers simply deflect the air pollution higher where it can be picked up by the wind and moved into areas further away from the highway. Isn’t that pushing the problem onto others? Seems selfish to me.

    It also seems that the removal of greenery necessary to install sound barriers also removes the best filter we have for air pollution, which is the greenery itself that traps particles on leaf surfaces so it can be washed into the ground by rain where it is absorbed into the ground instead of in our lungs.

    In fact, one could argue that the construction of sound barriers increases air pollution, in the manufacturing process, transport, heavy machinery, dust, traffic delays during installation, and the removal of existing vegetation which often has to occur to make room for the barriers.

    The author also ignores the negative effect sound barriers have on neighborhoods further away from the highway, through reflection and amplification of highway noise to areas way beyond the very few properties that are within 200 feet of the sound barrier, which is the only area that sees a significant sound reduction. That’s a tiny number of properties that benefit, relative to the cost, and a huge number of properties that will actually see increased highway noise. That cancels the argument that property values will benefit and the sound barriers will pay for themselves “after a few years”. Nonsense.

    It would simply be better to invest in adding more greenery along our highways, in the way of trees, shrubs, and pollinating wildflower meadows, and use the money saved from expensive, useless, and ugly sound barriers, that indeed do get covered in graffiti in contrast to what this author claims.

    On one point I agree with this author, and argue that pavement improvements to make them quieter would be better investment of our limited transportation funds.

    For instance, the CTDOT has proposed installing new concrete on the Yankee Doodle Bridge in Norwalk that has parallel grooves to traffic flow instead of perpendicular grooves, reducing tire noise which is the biggest source of noise on highways.

    I’ll add that driving on our highways is a necessary evil for most of us, even those of us who rely on trains to go into the city or beyond at every opportunity. The aesthetic and emotional experience of that time spent on our highways is a valid one, and looking at lush greenery and scenic views is much healthier than staring at canyons of graffiti covered walls. Greenery is known to reduce stress, and therefore we can predict reduced incidents of road rage.

    Our image of CT as the gateway to New England would also be diminished by every mile of ugly sound barrier installed. That’s not good for tourism which brings in over $10 billion a year into our state economy and provides thousands of jobs. We should be making our highways prettier, not uglier!

    Finally, the folks who bought houses next to highways paid less for them, and it’s not the responsibility of taxpayers elsewhere to now subsidize their property values by spending sparse transportation dollars on ugly sound barriers that cost $2 million per mile. Better they insulate their homes better if necessary, and plant more trees in their yards.

    Most of these folks already get federal housing subsidies through their mortgage deductions, and any further subsidies should go to pay for affordable housing for folks who really need it, in a state with a severe affordable housing crisis.

  6. Simean Blake

    @Mushak Along with the dubious claim that sound barriers cost 2 million dollars a mile, a simple google search shows that sound barriers do in fact reduce air pollution and of course noise pollution.

    Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency released harmless “tracer” gases along highways to track how they were dispersed through the air – and by extension, indicate what happens to harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide, soot and benzene that are emitted by cars and trucks going by.

    The researchers found that in addition to blocking out sights and sounds of traffic, the barriers apparently channel air flow – and many of the pollutants – up and away from nearby residential areas.

    “We also found that the barriers tend to trap pollutants in the area of the roadway itself, especially at night in low wind-speed conditions,” said Dennis Finn, a NOAA meteorologist from Idaho, and lead author of the study, published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

    The Study found nothing regarding it being pushed to other locations.

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