Residents Demand More Info on Sound Barriers

One of the early meetings I attended, when residents were asked to choose a design for sound barriers without what they felt was adequate information.

No sooner did state DOT Project Director Michael Anderson begin talking than he was interrupted. “How are we expected to vote on a design that has not been decided?” someone asked. “Why don’t we have all the facts?”

Resident were given four designs to choose from/NNYB

Resident were given four designs to choose from/NNYB

Close to 125 Westchester residents turned out at the Westchester Marriott Hotel last month to hear the state’s plans to build two sound barriers, each between 10 and 24 feet high — on the north side of the bridge, and west of Route 9, north of I-287/I-87 — to reduce car and bus noise on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

In April, the state mailed ballots to 60 Westchester families and 101 Rockland families whose homes would be most impacted by the noise. Although it had seriously considered extending a May 24 vote deadline, the Thruway Authority kept its deadline, “and will accept whatever ballots we have so far,” Thruway Authority spokesman Andrew O’Rourke said.

“Eighty percent were in favor of the wall, and we’re going to move forward with it per the DEIS, which required the survey,” O’Rourke said. Once a bidder is chosen, he said, the agency can offer a better visual, via renderings, to show people what the barriers will look like, and how they will be impacted, and there will be another vote.

Not everyone living near the affected areas received ballots and asked why. Residents who did receive them asked why they had to decide now since the contract won’t be awarded until the summer.

“We need to do this during the preliminary hearings,” replied Elizabeth Novak, an Environmental Analysis Specialist with the DOT.

The agitated crowd pressed for answers, without waiting for them, about design and visual impact. Interrupted yet again mid-sentence, Anderson told the crowd, “I beg your indulgence to please let me finish.”

When Anderson suggested they break into small groups to answer questions, they said no, they had the same questions and wanted to hear the state’s replies as a group.

“Aren’t you putting the cart before the horse?” one man asked.

“Agencies have identified the impact of noise and are trying to mitigate it,” Anderson said. “You’re being asked ‘is the barrier acceptable or not?’”

“Why do we not have a picture or the drawing of the design and the height?” said Ellen Kellerman, who sat in the front row. “You want us to vote on something without all the facts.”

Project consultant Stephen Rosen said the barriers are based on a standard model, and there will be less noise with them than without them. Current noise levels on the existing bridge are between 63 and 73 decibels and would be reduced with new barriers.

“How do you put up (a) bridge and not share photos?” demanded one man.

Residents said pictures of the four sample barriers were not enough and that requests for three-dimensional visuals, and their placement to residents’ homes, were unmet.

“We need representation of height (since) we can’t picture this at all,” said Tori Weisel, president of the Irving Neighborhood Preservation Association, which was excluded from voting.

“The toll booths are expanding 100 feet closer to my neighborhood, and there are lots of holes in the plan,” Weisel said, adding, “My house could be a toll plaza.”

Anderson said the state will discuss construction mitigation plans once a design team is chosen. Residents on both sides of the plaza have repeatedly asked the state about protection from noise and health hazards during the five-year project.

He said it “won’t be five years of everything,” and that traffic would switch to the new bridge sometime during the fourth year.

All designs for the new twin-spanned structure — estimated at $5 to $6 billion and up to $16 billion if mass transit is included — will not preclude bus rapid transit and a dedicated rail although finances prohibit including them now.

Christopher Calvert of the Environmental Impact Statement Consultant Team said the barrier placements were based on future traffic on the bridge.

“Did you figure in additional train noise in your studies?” asked Tarrytown Deputy Mayor Tom Basher. Anderson said only buses and cars were studied.

Rockland residents who met with state officials last month also said they wanted more information.

My article originally appeared in The Hudson Independent June 1, 2012.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2015

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