WINDHAM — As ongoing improvements to Interstate 93 creep along, residents of a Windham neighborhood are growing worried that highway noise could become permanent background music.
On a recent morning on Squire Armour Road — a well-populated cul-de-sac that abuts the expanding interstate — the constant roar of jackhammers and backhoes kept time with the sounds of passing commuters.
Both drowned out the sounds of children playing and birds chirping.
Those in the neighborhood who live with the daily road and construction noise expressed concerns about their quality of life, along with worries about their property values.
Resident Nathan McNulty said he was aware of the situation when he moved in this past June, but the project’s more recent tree-clearing turned out to be more than he bargained for.
“A lot of trees were cut down,” said McNulty, who works from home most days. “So right now we can see right onto the highway from our yards.”
And while the noise is “mostly manageable” for him right now, he’s worried what will happen once the project is complete.
“Right now there are four lanes,” McNulty said. “What’s going to happen when there are four more lanes and the whole highway is 100 feet closer to us? It’s definitely concerning.”
Peter Stamnas, construction manager for the $800 million highway project, said the state has been aware of the residents’ ongoing concerns for the past several years, but his hands are currently tied.
A noise impact study and barrier evaluation was completed at Squire Armour Road in fall 2011.
Results of the evaluation confirmed that the noise levels at many of the neighborhood’s homes exceeded the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) noise abatement criteria.
In a letter dated Sept. 19, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, told the Squire Armor residents that she sympathized with their situation and had recently contacted the state Department of Transportation on their behalf.
However, the FHWA is in agreement with the DOT that the construction of a noise barrier still “doesn’t meet the criteria” at this location, according to DOT officials.
While its been confirmed that the sound level along Squire Armour does exceed the FHWA’s Noise Abatement Criteria level of 67 decibels, installing a sound wall in this area still “isn’t cost-effective.”
New Hampshire DOT Commissioner Christopher D. Clement Sr. said it would cost the state up to $45,000 per household to install a sound barrier, an amount that exceeds the state’s $30,000 per household limit.
About 11 homes are affected by the highway project, meaning the quieting project could cost $495,000.
“We recognize this is a difficult situation for those located next to the project experiencing highway noise,” Clement said. “However … this decision is consistent with other difficult decisions relating to noise abatement made along the I-93 corridor and other locations throughout the state.”
In Concord, some legislators are currently questioning that decision.
Last summer, a study committee was formed with the goal of taking a second look at residential noise concerns surrounding the highway project.
Windham state Rep. Kevin Waterhouse, who sits on that committee, said there had been many meetings held over the past several months, and the group would be meeting again next week.
He noted that a total of 300 households statewide are affected by the I-93 noise, including the “non-qualified” residences at Squire Armour Drive.
“We’ve asked the DOT for their policies and we find they are very aware of the problem,” Waterhouse said on Thursday, noting that the study was prompted by a group of Bedford citizens “in a very similar situation to Windham’s.”
Waterhouse said he felt confident that a solution could ultimately be found, perhaps with compromise on the DOT’s part, while Ayotte said her recent correspondence with the state agency “does report an ongoing willingness to further examine new evidence, if warranted, to revisit this determination.”
Windham Community Development Director Laura Scott said she felt badly for those living on Squire Armour Road, but since I-93 isn’t a town road, town officials’ have little say on the matter.
“Hopefully, they can at least go in and plant some more trees once construction is done,” Scott said. “That would at least provide a bit of relief for these folks in the meantime.”