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Locals seek silent nights

Carpool lane could turn up decibel levels

Posted: February 12, 2009 12:37 a.m.
Updated: February 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.

A Valencia home shown next to the I-5 northbound freeway. Some residents are concerned about traffic noise from a planned HOV lane project on I-5 and want sound walls.


It sounds like someone left a giant white noise machine on in Candy Johnson's backyard.

Day and night, the oceanic hiss of traffic on Interstate 5 slinks across the rolling greens of the Vista Valencia Golf Course, through her backyard and into her windows.

With a 13-mile car-pool lane project on the table, Johnson hopes the noise doesn't get any worse.

The California Department of Transportation is in the environmental study stages of a plan to add carpool and truck lanes to Interstate 5 between state Highway 14 and Parker Road.

From her backyard on Farrow Drive in the 160-home Vista Ridge neighborhood, Johnson has a clear line of sight to I-5 traffic about a quarter-mile away, on the far side of the golf course.

Since she moved into her home in 1999, she said the noise has only increased.

Early Tuesday evening, the ambient noise of traffic measured 64 decibels in her backyard. That is about the range for heavy traffic at 300 feet, according to Caltrans' draft environmental study.

Normal speech at three feet is about 65 decibels.

Despite installing double-paned glass in her home, Johnson said she is sensitive to sound, and it often wakes her up.

"It's very unnerving," she said.

Johnson has been lobbying for support from her neighbors to petition Caltrans to include sound barrier walls along the freeway.

"I think we need to have more lanes, but they need to put in the sound walls," she said. "Right now the levels in our backyards are unacceptable."

Early Tuesday evening, the ambient noise level in Sally Coss' Altos Drive backyard was 69 decibels.

Tuesday is the deadline for residents to submit comments about the environmental study, and Johnson said she is delivering a packet of responses today.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Johnson had 20 comment cards from her neighbors, in addition to her own, and was expecting more by the end of the night. She started circulating the cards earlier in the week.

While some homes are more affected by the noise than others, the Vista Ridge homeowners association board is in favor of sound walls, HOA Board Secretary Steven Blain said.

Blain, who has lived on Farrow Drive since 1980, said he has been in charge of distributing comment cards to homeowners.

"As far as the board is concerned, (the request) is a benefit to all homeowners," he said.

Whether or not noise-reducing walls are erected depends on residents, said Arnold Barmar, a noise and vibration specialist with Caltrans.

The 11 locations where sound walls are recommended are outside the state's right of way, he said Wednesday. That means 100 percent of the affected residents would have to agree to having a wall built on their property.

The sound walls can range in height from 6 feet to 14 feet and can cost about $2 million per mile to erect, Barmar said.

He said, "in the near future," residents will receive a letter asking them if they would be in favor of a sound wall.

The construction cost would not be borne by residents, Barmar said, and property owners would be responsible for some maintenance costs.

He said sound measurements were taken primarily in residents' backyards, at different times of the day and in 24-hour intervals.

The added lanes on I-5 would likely cause a two- to four-decibel spike in the noise level, he said.

Because of the elevation of the homes in Johnson's neighborhood, Barmar said it would not help to erect a sound wall along the edge of the golf course.


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