Letter from Greg Piccininno, President, Neighborhood Citizens Against I-95 Noise, dated June 21, 2021, delivered by First Selectman Fred Camillo to Governor Ned Lamont
Dear Governor Lamont,
I am writing on behalf of a citizens group, Neighborhood Citizens Against I-95 Noise (www.stop95noise.org), and we are coordinating with numerous neighborhood groups including the Riverside Association, Cos Cob Association and the Byram Association. We are launching a public awareness campaign in order to make sure every resident is aware of CT DOT Project 56-316 and understands the issues concerning our health and well-being, especially those of our students.
Since CT DOT Project 56-316 was announced, the public has repeatedly requested that CT DOT use this opportunity to incorporate noise remediation into the project. At the January 21, 2021 public hearing (the only public hearing for this major project, which attracted the largest attendance for a DOT hearing to date), CT DOT informed the residents that this project did not qualify for noise remediation, noise studies, or even traffic impact studies under the Federal Highway rules. Our research leads us to believe that CT DOT ignored pertinent aspects of the Federal Law in reaching this conclusion.
Longtime residents in the area report that the I-95 noise level has increased dramatically in the past three to five years and this has impacted the use of their yards and homes. Since the last noise studies conducted by the state seem to be in 1995, there is limited empirical evidence of increased noise from I-95. But we do know that noise emissions due to the shift from passenger cars to SUVs, changes in tire types, and the explosion of e-commerce (a 350% increase over the last four years; [Infographic] Ecommerce vs Retail Sales from 2007-2020) all increase noise. Most highway noise emanates from tires, and delivery trucks as well as SUVs use wider and deeper grooved tires, and modern passenger cars use wider low-profile tires or run flat tires which also produce more highway noise. These changes indicate that the reports by area residents are well founded.
We are also concerned about the health of our students in our local schools that are near the highway. Twenty-six years ago the CT DOT acknowledged that the noise levels already exceeded federal and state noise levels for the New Lebanon School, which serves a largely minority and low income population. It is safe to assume that over the past 26 years, other schools near I-95 such as Cos Cob and Riverside Elementary Schools, and Eastern and Western Middle Schools also exceed legal noise limits that research has shown has a detrimental impact on cognitive learning.
Perhaps most importantly, our sister state Massachusetts has an active program to implement highway noise remediation programs for the betterment of its residents’ health and well-being. The costs associated with noise remediation relative to the total cost of the project seem minimal, and the benefit to health and welfare significant. Why let Massachusetts continue to outperform us?
Significantly, this stretch of I-95 is the gateway to New England. As the most-trafficked section in the state, it announces Connecticut’s priorities to residents, visitors and potential investors. With this DOT project, the state has the perfect opportunity to showcase forward-thinking techniques and demonstrate that it cares about its residents and businesses and will not be left behind. New York State is completing a complex highway project at our state line that includes state-of-the-art noise remediation measures. Why let New York outperform us?
The CT DOT’s last construction in our area was in the early 1980s after the Michael Morano Bridge collapse, and most of this highway section has been untouched since its 1950s construction. Project 56-316 is our only opportunity for the next three to five decades to create an environmentally-responsive gateway to Connecticut and identify our state as an attractive and healthy location for residents and businesses.
We ask that your office take the leadership on this critically important infrastructure project so that Connecticut ensures that current businesses thrive, we attract new businesses to the state, and Connecticut residents are protected by our state agencies.
Neighborhood Citizens Against I-95 Noise
Mr. Josh Geballe, Chief Operating Officer
First Selectman Camillo
Outline of the Project 56-316 Issues
The CT DOT relies on 23 CFR 771, which details the Federal Highway Administration rules from 1978, but this approach fails to account for Congressional Law that would mandate studies regarding health and well-being and traffic disruption. The CT DOT claims exemptions from these studies. We have brought this to the attention of the CT DEEP, which is analyzing the material given the irregularities and potential for non-compliance.
CT DOT Noise Studies
CT DOT identified several Greenwich areas as exceeding noise standards as far back as 1995 (including New Lebanon School). Most road noise comes from tires and, with the increased usage of e-commerce delivery trucks, SUVs, and light trucks, wider tires with deeper grooves create a drastic increase in highway noise since 1995. A recent report by the World Economic Forum (Why regional e-commerce companies must prioritise sustainability) anticipates that e-commerce growth will increase last-mile delivery by 78% by 2030.
Health & Well-Being
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that nearly 100 million people in the United States (about 50% of the population) have annual exposures to traffic noise that are high enough to be harmful to health (Environmental Noise Pollution in the United States: Developing an Effective Public Health Response; Noise exposure is becoming ‘the new secondhand smoke’).
Highway noise has been shown to reduce learning in students in most research studies. One real-life example in a Bronx school found that external noise produced by an elevated subway resulted in lower test scores for students whose classes faced the tracks (STUDENT SCORES RISE AFTER NEARBY SUBWAY IS QUIETED (Published 1982)). Noise remediation by the MTA resulted in the elimination in test score differentials based on classroom location. Several Greenwich schools are near the highway, where students are exposed to noise levels that exceed both federal and state standards.
The Texas DOT found that using noise remediating concrete roads reduced highway noise equivalent to cutting traffic by 70%.
States like Massachusetts have a priority list for noise remediation projects (called Type II highway projects) and are actively working on reducing highway noise for the health and well-being of their residents. Connecticut has no such list and has not built noise remediation projects in decades despite having a higher statutory tax rate. New York adopted a Noise Abatement Program in 1998 to address Tier II noise barriers, allocating $15,000,000 for a 6-year capital improvement plan for this purpose. Priority was given to areas along the Thruway with residences built before 1999 and to neighborhoods with higher population density. The noise measurement program looked at the noisiest hour in a 24-hour period, with noise abatement options for barrier size and design. In 2016, the New Hampshire DOT implemented a noise policy to mitigate highway noise that is not associated with Type I roadway improvements. To qualify for noise barriers, a section of the highway must meet or exceed 66 dBA Leq during loudest-hour conditions, at least one benefitted building must have been constructed before 1995, and a barrier must provide a minimum of 7 dB noise reduction, with a goal of 10 dB noise reduction.
Potential Legal Issues
Below we list some of the potential legal issues with Project 56-316, regardless if these are eventually proven correct or not, one has to also ask the moral question. How bad does noise pollution have to be before the state recognizes its responsibility to focus on the health and well-being of its citizens? Our sister states, New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, have already committed to remediating noise pollution and protecting their citizens. The CT DOT has concluded that I-95 Project 56-316 does not require any noise or traffic studies based on the Federal Highway Administration’s 1978 rules on highway projects. However, later congressionally-passed laws and/or agency regulations set conditions by which states should determine if a project was exempt from environmental rules or not. We believe that I-95 Project 56-316 is in violation of the conditions listed below, which the CT DEEP has received for analysis.
- CT DOT’s environmental files seem to conflict with regulations 40 CFR 1500-1508, which state that federally-funded projects are not exempt from EPA studies if there are known issues that have a significant effect on human environment. The CT DOT’s own noise studies list several Greenwich areas as exceeding federal and state limits.
These regulations also consider Environmental Justice which is defined as “involving a dispassionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects to a minority or low-income population. CT sets this population cut off at over ten percent of the impacted population.” New Lebanon School, where students spend time both inside and outside of the school building, was cited as a problem by the CT DOT in 1995; the social-economic make-up of that neighborhood demands that the CT DOT conduct the appropriate environmental studies.
- CT DOT Project 56-0316 will involve lane and ramp closures. 40 CFR 1500 Part C Item 25 states that “closure of existing roads, bridges or ramps that would cause major traffic disruption” would not allow the CT DOT to proceed with this project without EPA approval based upon environmental and traffic studies. This project will bring considerable highway traffic to Putnam Ave, which will directly impact our town, particularly the Cos Cob school area as well as school bus schedules.
- Regulation 40 CFR 15600 Part 3 Item 1 seems to prevent the CT DOT proceeding with the project without EPA approval, due to I-95 Project 056-0316 “creating substantial public controversy for any reason . . . including those based on environmental grounds.” The public reaction to date about this project has been substantial and is expected to increase as more residents in the Greenwich and Stamford communities become aware of the proposed rehabilitation project scheduled to start in 2022.
- Connecticut Environmental Law actually excludes any mobile source of noise from any noise regulations and limits. CT Regulations of State Agencies Section 22a-69-1.7 Environmental Protection, which exempts things like ambulance sirens (for obvious reasons) from noise limits also exempts any noise made by a mobile source: “the regulations shall not apply . . . (i) sound created by any mobile source of noise. Mobile sources of noise shall include but are not limited to such sources as aircraft, automobiles, trucks and boats.” In effect, anything that is not stationary is exempt.
This is inconsistent with the US Environmental Law passed by Congress in 1972 and re-written and ratified again by Congress in 1990, which allows states to petition Congress to make state legislation more stringent if it is necessary to protect the health and welfare of the state’s residents. It does not allow states to weaken the law which the CT Regulations clearly do.
How bad does noise pollution have to be before the state of Connecticut recognizes its responsibility to focus on health and wellbeing?