North Charleston stonewalled in efforts to get noise barriers
In some North Charleston neighborhoods that abut busy Interstate 26, residents would love to have the sort of noise-reducing walls that have been going up along U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant.
“I don’t know if they go by population, or if our neighborhood isn’t affluent enough, or what,” said Marcie Douan, a North Charleston community leader in Midland Park Terrace.
Residents there live near a section of the interstate that was recently widened.
“The people who live down there, they can’t even open their windows when the weather is nice, or sit on their porch, without the roar of the traffic,” Douan said.
Along another section of I-26, the Northwood Estates neighborhood also has spent years asking for noise barriers, essentially appealing the results of a 1998 S.C. Department of Transportation study.
“My kids wake up in the morning tired because they can’t sleep at night,” said Russell Coletti of North Shadow Drive.
But despite years of letters, meetings, face-to-face talks and several noise studies, residents in those communities have been told no, and no. Noise barriers wouldn’t be feasible and there’s no money to build them, they have been told.
City officials have said it’s a state issue, and they know the state has little money.
“We get frustrated dealing with the state as well, but the bottom line is, I don’t know how we move them from their position,” said Mayor Keith Summey. “I’m a realist, and I know what’s been put in the state’s budget for roads.”
State transportation officials have told residents that their hands are tied, by federal regulations.
“Since the noise study has shown that conditions do not meet the federal requirements for noise abatement (i.e., a “noise wall”), SCDOT will not be pursuing noise abatement,” Douan was told in a Nov. 26 letter. The letter cited a threshold-breaking cost estimate for the wall that exceeded a “$30,000 per benefitted receptor” limit.
While the state cites federal regulations, some federal officials have pointed upset residents back to the state.
“Because your concern is with an agency operated by the State of South Carolina, it is outside my official federal jurisdiction,” U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint wrote in a 2011 letter to Northwood Estates resident Virginia Jamison.
Jamison, who spoke about the issue at a recent North Charleston City Council meeting, said much has changed since the state conducted a noise study in 1998. The interstate is busier, the area’s population has increased, and growth at the port means more trucks on the road.
“When you change the playing field, you need to change the rules,” she said.
In Northwood Estates’ case, state officials have repeatedly said the state can’t reconsider the issue unless there is significant new road work on that section of the interstate.
“Due to the fact that noise abatement was previously determined not feasible and reasonable the noise abatement requested in your emails would not be recommended for re-evaluation,” SCDOT Environmental Engineer Randall Williamson told Coletti in a 2010 letter.
On Friday, Ron Patton, SCDOT’s chief engineer for planning, location and design, reiterated that position, saying the answer had not changed.
“A noise wall was not feasible at that location at the time the last project was constructed in the area, and the only funding source for a future wall (if one were to qualify in the future) would be the construction budget from a future federally funded project at that location,” he said.
Coletti, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2011, suggested that the city should pay for the wall.
“They have money for the things they want,” Coletti said.
Councilman Bobby Jameson’s district includes most of Northwood Estates, and he beat Coletti in the election. He said the wall is a state issue and he knows the state doesn’t have money, so he’s not pushing it.
“You’ve got a bunch of people who believe that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so they’re doing a lot of squeaking,” Jameson said. “I’m not saying they don’t have a problem. I just know the state doesn’t have $20 million for a wall.”
The origin of the $20 million estimate cited by Jameson is unclear, but the wall sought by Northwood Estates would be 1.9 miles long. A 10-foot-tall noise wall in Mount Pleasant cost $743,000 for a half-mile.
That wall was part of a county-funding road project, and was built at the town’s urging.
In Midland Park, Douan said she’s hoping state lawmakers might be able to help get a noise barrier built.
“It affects a lot of people,” she said. “We’re not going to give up.”
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.