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Road construction noise drives talk of House study panel

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 11. 2013 9:06PM

CONCORD - The New Hampshire House could form a study committee today to tackle the issue of what to do about road construction that brings highway noise into once-quiet neighborhoods.

State Rep. Keith Murphy, R-Bedford, said he decided to seek legislation after meeting with a group of Bedford residents who suddenly found themselves unable to open windows because of reconstruction around the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

"When the state put in the airport access road, they took out a 40-foot-wide strip of trees between the turnpike and these people's homes." Murphy said. "The noise levels went through the roof."

State Department of Transportation engineers visited and took measurements, finding that sound levels in the neighborhood reached 65 decibels (dB), the level of normal conversation. It meant the roadway sounds were now loud enough to compete with conversation.

But, Murphy said, the population density of the neighborhood meant it did not qualify for sound-proofing.

The House Transportation Committee, which held hearings on Murphy's proposal to require sound barriers, voted instead to amend his bill to convene a study commission.

Murphy originally wanted a ban on construction work on highways that end up creating more noise for existing neighborhoods. His bill would have required that steps be taken so that the sound would not disturb residents.

The Bedford lawmaker said the thick concrete walls that have often served as sound barriers are expensive.

"There are other technologies that other cities and towns have used," Murphy said. "We want to look at everything from fiberglass blankets to vinyl wall material that is less expensive."

Residents in the Teaberry Lane and County Road neighborhood complain that appraisers are deducting from the property value of their homes because of highway noise, he said.

"These aren't McMansions; they are fairly typical three-bedroom homes," Murphy said. "The state came in, put in the access road and took a significant amount of their property value."

The answer, he suggests, is to force the state to build noise relief into the cost of a project.

"I think (neighbors) understood the noise while the road was under construction. It's a short-term thing to benefit the state as a whole," Murphy said. "But when you leave, you should leave things the way you found it in terms of the effect on homeowners."

The study commission recommended by the Transportation Committee would have until Nov. 1 to look into solutions for noise pollution caused by reconfiguration of roads.

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