PennDOT wants input on sound walls in Fishtown

Elizabeth Rairigh, holding her Three-month-old Vivian, talks with Marian Hull of URS during a public meeting on I-95 construction projects, Wednesday, June 8, 2011, at Holy Name of Jesus Church.

When PennDOT representatives asked Fishtown residents last week if they would like new sound walls to dampen Interstate 95’s noise, the answer was a resounding yes.

In fact, the gathered crowd at Holy Name of Jesus Church, 701 Gaul St., on Wednesday, June 8, seemed to shout in unison when Harvey Knauer, vice president of Environmental Acoustics, a company contracted by PennDOT to study sound levels on the highway, asked about the sound-dampening walls.

The meeting was the first of a series of gatherings through which PennDOT plans to determine where sound walls should be installed during the ongoing I-95 expansion.

Residents may select not only if they want the walls, but also what they would be made of and what they would look like.

But that residential input would have to wait for another day. A meeting at which planners will obtain input and present samples of materials and facades for sound walls will be held at Holy Name on June 29 at 6:30 p.m.

Instead, residents learned last week of the suggested outlines for the placement of sound walls, which PennDOT representatives said were determined through a recent study.

As presented, I-95 could receive 19,000 feet of sound-dampening walls, stretching nearly from Spring Garden Street to Indiana Street.

The walls — which could be between 12 and 18 feet tall, depending on placement along I-95 — are intended to cut traffic noise by at least six decibels.

Knauer said five decibels alone makes a noticeable difference to the ear.

“You’ll still hear some noise … The only way to not hear it would be if you built a tube, but then you’d have the noise at the ends,” said Knauer. “But, it will be a noticeable difference.”

While he plans to present the exact numbers at future meetings — since, depending on where residents want the walls would effect how much sound the walls will muffle — Knauer said PennDOT is shooting for at least a six decibel decrease in traffic noise.

Bob Goodrich, who lives on the 2500 block of Salmon Street, said he wanted the sound walls to be bigger than the proposed 12 to 18 feet, because he lives in a three-story house and he worries sound will escape the barriers.

“The walls could be too short,” said Goodrich. “From the top floor, we will still hear it. This will be better, but they need to do something about that and the sound under I-95, too.”

Confronted with this concern, Mark Rhoads, project manager for the URS Corporation, also contracted by PennDOT for the I-95 Revive project, said the new materials used in the ongoing construction of the highway would help cut down on traffic noise under the roadway as well.

“Also, from a drainage and maintenance standpoint it should hold up much better,” he told the audience.

Under 95, the project will also clear out some of the beams and barriers, providing residents with a better, more open view of the waterfront.

“We are trying to reduce the clutter — the visual clutter — that you see every day,” he said.

A woman who lives along the 2600 block of Salmon Street, who asked only to be identified as Linda, said she liked the idea of cutting down the noise from I-95.

But she said her biggest concern was making sure the project followed the desires of residents without ignoring comments generated at neighborhood meetings.

“I’m very skeptical,” Linda said. “My biggest concern is being walked on … I have a beautiful yard that I love to spend time in, but I-95 is always overhead … I’m concerned about the sound.”

Linda also said she’s worried about the dust and dirt that I-95 construction could kick up and send around the community, since much of the area being worked on, like the areas near Richmond Street where that road will be moved 60 feet to the east, could be contaminated due to years of industrial use.

“I don’t want dust and dirt coming into the community,” she said.

Overall, Elaine Elbich, PennDOT project manager for the project, said last week’s meeting was a great opportunity to present elements of the project to residents.

“We are still looking at what we can make available,” she said when asked just what facades and materials residents will be able to select from.

To gather information on the sound wall aspect of the plan, she pointed residents to the meeting at the end of the month for an opportunity to provide opinions.

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com

Sound barrier meeting

On June 29, PennDOT will hold a meeting with residents living between Frankford Avenue and Palmer Street to select sound wall options.

The meeting will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Holy Name of Jesus Church, 701 E. Gaul St.

Residents will vote on whether they want sound walls on this portion of the reconstructed highway and on the desired appearance of the walls. This section of the project is scheduled to begin construction next year, and only residents living in this area will be eligible to vote. Sound wall selection meetings for future construction phases (from Palmer to Ann Streets and Race to Frankford Streets) will be scheduled as these sections near construction.

For more information, contact URS Corporation’s Marian Hull at marian_hull@urscorp.com.