BRICK – The New Jersey Turnpike Authority repeated its stance that it has done all it can to mitigate noise issues for the Evergreen Woods development near the Garden State Parkway.
Residents there have been trying to get the Authority to build a sound wall or in some way reduce the amount of noise in their neighborhood since construction began near Interchange 91 in recent years.
The project, according to the authority, was to improve safety by restoring full-width shoulders, improving sight distances and removing obstructions between mileposts 83 and 100. This particular project was part of a larger project addressing a number of safety concerns on the Parkway.
Another part of the project involved creating a drainage basin in between the northbound and southbound parts of the Parkway, a move residents said now makes them able to hear both sides of the roadway.
Most recently, resident Stephen Brill asked the Ocean County Freeholders to fight on his behalf for relief.
After the county engineer determined that the issue falls within the Authority’s widening project, freeholders wrote a letter to it. The response from the Authority described some of the background and stated, in part: “The Evergreen Woods community does not qualify for noise mitigation measures.”
A group of active residents have tried to find allies in various governments in order to give their claims some political muscle.
“I might have to wait for a new governor. It’s the only agency the NJTA listens to,” Brill said.
“They don’t want to do anything for us,” he said of the Authority. For if they did, then they would have to answer demands from other groups as well.
Brill brought up different options for a sound wall, and argued that it would not be as prohibitively expensive as the Authority has suggested.
The Authority did do some work toward mitigating the sound. This included using different pavement in the area to reduce the decibel level and planting trees.
However, residents said that the pavement only reduces tire noise a negligible amount and does not affect engine sounds and other noises. The trees were not large enough to really cause a change, they added.
Jill Sluka has lived in Evergreen Woods for about 14 years. It is a lot different now than it used to be. When she first looked at the property, there was enough green around it to mask the Parkway noise. Now, her windows rattle.
“If I stepped out of my car (when first shopping for a house), and I heard that noise, I would get right back into my car,” she said.
Now, she is worried that she could not even sell the house to anyone because of the noise. The potential buyer would have to be coming from an urban area where they are used to traffic sounds.
She said she moved to the neighborhood to be close to the Parkway to reduce her commute. Now, it’s a little too close to the Parkway. She said she can see the back of her house while on it.
Her son has since developed a condition, reactive lymph nodes, that she feels is in response to the pollution given off by vehicles. “The problem is you can’t prove it and you can’t disprove it.”
Her father, John Sluka, has lived there for more than 20 years. He complains that you can wipe the soot off the windows with your finger.
“You can taste it some mornings,” he said. It’s no wonder that kids always seem to be sick in the neighborhood.
He writes bi-monthly letters to Brick government addressing such issues as pollution causing health problems and the Authority members not caring because they live in relative peace and quiet.
Michele Spector, another resident, wrote to the chair of the Authority,
“You try going to sleep with a now 8-lane highway within 100 feet of your house. This means your house shakes like there’s an earthquake. And with the razing to the ground of the median, the decibel level is way over the 65 db legal limit and that’s around the clock. We have measured it over 90 db during peak times.”
Evergreen Woods does qualify for a wall because the traffic is closer to homes, especially when a new exit lane is constructed during the reconfiguration of Parkway exit 91, Spector said. Those improvements to the exchange are a joint project between Ocean County and NJTA.
Thomas Feeney, a spokesperson for the authority, said that Evergreen’s situation did not require a noise study because the Parkway existed before the development. Additional work on the road does not warrant a study. Occasionally, studies are performed on projects, but most of the time there won’t be a study. If travel lanes are being moved closer to homes, then noise studies could be done.
“If a construction project is not going to increase traffic or alter the roadway geometry – as was the case with the project near Evergreen Woods – there is no need to study noise impacts,” he said.
Feeney said that the improvements at Exit 91 were done by the county, and the county’s sound study determined that there was no additional sound mitigation needed.
In related news, the county extended a professional services contract with Stantec Consulting Services, Inc. for design assistance relating to the Interchange 91 improvements that Ocean County is doing.
The contract was extended for a duration of four months, costing $24,777.60.