Mark Doogue doesn’t bother to yell for his sons when he wants them to stop playing in the backyard and come inside; he knows they won’t hear over the roar of traffic on nearby Route 3 — just yards away on the other side of a low retaining wall and sagging chain-link fence.
“It’s too loud; I have to go down and get their attention by waving my arms,” Doogue said. “When I mow the lawn, I can hear the cars over the lawnmower — that gives you an indication of how loud it is.”
Doogue and his neighbors on Progress Street have been asking for years for some kind of relief, preferably a concrete noise barrier between their homes and the busy state highway. Their road parallels Route 3 for about half a mile, close to the southbound lane just before the first Route 18 exit.
While the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has denied the requests in the past, local officials now are asking the state to reconsider. They point to neighbors’ claims that the noise has been getting worse and concern that development of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station — into the SouthField community of upward of 2,500 homes — will lead to more vehicular traffic and even more sound pollution.
“We’re asking MassDOT to come out and do a decibel reading, and basically run the public health tests to see if this area qualifies to get sound barriers,” said Town Councilor Patrick O’Connor. “I think it’s worthy.”
He pointed out that the neighborhood predates the highway by two years — the houses were built in 1957 — and that residents have endured not only noise but also smelly fumes and cars crashing and sending debris into their yards.
O’Connor, who also is state Senator Robert Hedlund’s legislative director, said state transportation officials have told him they’d like to help but they can’t afford to build a concrete noise barrier. The state estimates the cost at $5 million to $8 million per mile, according to MassDOT spokeswoman Sara Lavoie, and the Weymouth wall would need to be about half a mile long.
Hedlund tried unsuccessfully to earmark $1.5 million for the work in the 2012 state transportation bond; a request for $50,000 to study the project also failed, O’Connor said.
“It’s the evils of economics — they don’t have the money. But we want to raise the public profile about how the quality of life in the neighborhood is being hurt by the highway — so when the money becomes available” the state will consider doing the work, O’Connor said.
Lavoie, however, said the Weymouth site doesn’t meet strict qualifications for noise relief and is not on the list of 40 sites already under consideration.
The state has spent tens of millions of dollars on highway noise abatement elsewhere in recent years, much of it as part of new road construction. Examples include barriers built in Westwood and Dedham along Interstate 95 and on Route 44 in Plymouth. The state also put up noise barriers along I-93 in Milton and Quincy.
The barriers typically are 14 to 20 feet high, made of concrete, and can reduce noise levels by 10 to 12 decibels, according to MassDOT literature. The state also has built noise barriers of earth and wood, which are less expensive but less effective.
The main priority for state highway spending, though, is highway safety and such things as replacing substandard bridges and improving accident-prone intersections, according to MassDOT policy statements.
Joseph Fucile, who has lived in the Progress Street neighborhood for 35 years, said he understands the budget constraints the state faces. “At the same time, we need some relief,” he said.
While his yard doesn’t directly abut Route 3, he says he hears the traffic loud and clear, and the noise has been getting worse. Maybe it’s because cars are going faster, or there are more traveling throughout the day. Some neighbors suspect the noise grew when the state resurfaced the highway, or when concrete barriers were installed between the north and southbound lanes, he said.
Doogue said the noise in his yard from the highway registered from 70 to 89 decibels on a recent Sunday afternoon — approaching or exceeding the 85 decibel level that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health considers hazardous.
“It gets louder in the summer when motorcycles go by,” Doogue said.
David Andrews, a Progress Street resident since 1990, said another theory for why the highway sounds louder now is that trees have died or lost foliage and provide less of a buffer. If the state can’t afford to build a concrete barrier, he said, he’d be satisfied with a dirt berm separating the residential properties from the highway.
“I’d love to see people think outside the box and come up with something that would appease us,” he said. “I feel like we’re the land that time forgot. I would love to see the state find a little bit of money and, even if it’s only a temporary solution, do something for us.”Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.