In a Center Grove area neighborhood, just a few hundred feet from the future path of Interstate 69, the sound of vehicles passing by on the already busy State Road 37 fills the air.
When Nick Catellier purchased a home in the Wakefield neighborhood, the Indiana Department of Transportation was still considering the exact path of a new interstate along the path of State Road 37 right next to his neighborhood. One route that wasn’t chosen that would have required him to sell the home. Homes on the west side of the neighborhood between Smith Valley and Fairview roads will border I-69 once the final section of the interstate is built sometime in the next decade.
For residents, that means even more noise than what State Road 37 currently brings, especially as traffic increases in the future.
Just south of Smith Valley Road, Clyde Clemons, who has lived on Bluff Road for more than 40 years, said the noise levels are already terrible. The main irritation is the sound when semi-trucks brake when traffic backs up at Smith Valley Road.
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“I don’t know how it could get any worse,” he said.
Catellier hoped that sound barriers, concrete walls that would block and absorb some of the sound coming from vehicles, would divide the neighborhood and the interstate, making the noise more bearable. But no sound barriers are currently planned along the six miles of I-69 that will pass through Johnson County, and few have been constructed on the previous five sections of the route, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
In the 95 miles of I-69 that are complete from Evansville to Bloomington, crews put up about 8,000 feet of sound barriers, all in the Bloomington area, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesperson Andy Dietrick said.
The state conducted a sound study along the route of I-69 to determine where noise levels would increase the most from the construction of the interstate. Several spots in Johnson County are projected to be louder than 66 decibels, the threshold for when sound barriers are considered. That noise level is comparable to the sound of a vacuum cleaner. And in some areas, sound levels will double, according to the study.
But sound levels aren’t the only factor the state considers.
Even if sound levels become much higher as a result of the interstate, barriers will only be built in densely populated areas where adding them is cost effective, Dietrick said.
The vast majority of the property surrounding the I-69 route in Johnson County is currently farmland. However, pockets of development, such as the Oak Meadows Mobile Home Community at Stones Crossing Road and the Wakefield neighborhood won’t receive sound barriers.
In both neighborhoods, the study shows sound levels will rise above 66 decibels, but not enough properties are impacted to justify the cost of constructing the sound barriers, Dietrick said. Transportation department rules allow for $30,000 worth of sound barriers to be built for each impacted property. A 20-foot tall, 1-mile sound barrier would cost about $3.2 million.
Oak Meadows was initially considered for sound barriers when an overpass was planned at Stones Crossing Road. Once that overpass was taken out, officials decided not to put sound barriers around the neighborhood due to traffic levels not being as high as initially anticipated, Dietrick said.
But sound barrier plans in Johnson County could be revisited, he said.
As further development takes place along I-69, more sound barriers could be added, regardless of whether that development is before or after the construction of the interstate, he said. If a developer were looking to put in a new neighborhood along I-69, for example, they would be encouraged to talk with the state about sound barriers or other options to lower sound levels, Dietrick said.
Even if the state approves sound barriers at a location, the decision on if they will be built will be left to the residents in that area. Sound barriers will only be built if the majority of the property owners want them, Dietrick said. Elsewhere on I-69, areas have been approved for sound barriers, but residents requested that they not be built because the walls would have blocked the views from their homes, he said.
If residents want sound barriers, but the state is not planning to add them, they can request that state workers take a second look. But unless both the sound and density requirements are met, it’s unlikely that sound barriers would be built, he said.
Here’s a look at how a sound study by the Indiana Department of Transportation projected noise decibel levels would change at spots along the future route of Interstate 69:
Location;Current sound level;Projected sound level
Oak Meadows Mobile Home Community;64;72.1
North Bluff Road;61.4;66.8