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East County Thursday, Apr. 14, 2022 4 months ago

As SR 70 traffic grows, some residents seek peace and quiet

Community Development District 4 officials say that solutions to the noise problems might be in the works.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

When Rita Carney moved into her Lakewood Ranch home in 2003, she knew the community would grow.

However, she didn't expect the effects of that growth to pass through the walls of her home.

Like multiple residents on the roads within Greenbrook that border State Road 70, Carney, who lives on Glossy Ibis Place, said she has a constant companion in the form of traffic noise.

“It lasts all night long,” Carney said. “It’s quiet for an hour, and then it starts back up. About 10 years ago, the sound started going up, and up, and up, and it just shows no sign of getting any better.”

Currently only a portion of west Greenbrook is covered by a high berm and wall.

Carney said that although she wishes she could move, medical expenses and the current economy make this impossible, so she has resigned herself to the noises that rush around her.

“I feel like I am on the road, and cars are just zooming past me all the time,” she said. “I don't know if it’s an echo; I don't know what it is. … Sometimes I can identify a song from a car passing by.”

Carney is attempting to mobilize neighbors to deal with the problem.

Meanwhile, other neighbors are pursuing their own efforts. At a Jan. 19 workshop meeting of Community Development District 4, which manages the Greenbrook area; Jenifer Dodson, chair of the Crossings Neighborhood Committee; and Joe O'Neill, a former chair, spoke out about the issue.

Some Greenbrook residents hope for a sound wall like the one alongside the community of Summerfield nearby.

Dodson, who lives on Nighthawk Terrace, said that from her perspective, the issues began about three years ago. 

"With all the new developments in Lakewood Ranch down east, there's a lot more traffic," Dodson said. "On top of it, there is nonstop, day and night, construction trucks going up and down the road, and they're very, very loud."

O'Neill said there appears to be an influx of traffic into the area from I-75 and said that many people are using Greenbrook Boulevard, Lorraine Road and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to get from University Town Center to State Road 64. He also said he notices increasing numbers of tractor-trailers traveling along State Road 70, which serves as a connection to Myakka City.


What could be done

As a result of residents addressing CDD4 with their concerns, the board resolved to look into the problem.

"When our neighbors came to us with this problem, I think we were unanimous that we were going to try to do something about it, within reason," said Michael Griffin, the chair of CDD4. “It’s an interesting dilemma. The question really becomes, who is responsible for mitigating the noise? Is it the state because it's a state road? Is it the CDD?”

According to Steve Zielinski, chief financial officer of the Inter-District Authority, the district is currently working with the engineering firm Kimley-Horn Planning and Design Engineering Consultants to possibly perform a sound study.

Zielinski said the district is weighing the cost of the study and the benefits of conducting a study.

If conducted, the study would be sent to the Florida Department of Transportation.

“Whether corrective action will take place remains to be seen, but we can certainly relay the info," Zielinski said.

He also said Kimley-Horn would likely be contracted to make recommendations for modifying a berm separating part of the eastern portion of Greenbrook from State Road 70, with the probable outcome being more foliage to reduce the sight of traffic and car headlights, and a possibility of the berm being heightened to block out more sound.

Zielinski said an increase to the size of the berm is possible, but there are concerns about the impact the increase would have on plants already on top of the berm.

Zielinski plans to present these options at a CDD4 meeting April 20.


Previous efforts

According to Jeffrey James, an environmental manager with the Florida Department of Transportation, the most recent noise study on the area was conducted in 2001 and received an addendum in 2003. It concluded that noise in Greenbrook needed to quadruple in order for the neighborhood to receive a state-funded wall.

James also said that because the 2003 addendum already analyzed S.R. 70 based on the current six-lane configuration, FDOT will not conduct a new noise study unless there is another road expansion.

James said FDOT does not have a set policy or procedure for what actions to take based on a privately conducted noise study.

“We’d take it up to management,” he said.

James said that although FDOT does review private studies, he does not know of any instances in which this has resulted in new studies or mitigation efforts by the state. He explained that FDOT makes its projections based on the maximum traffic a road will hold at the posted speed limit, and that a private firm would have to prove excess sound based on FDOT criteria in order to initiate intervention by the FDOT.

O'Neill said the system of measurement is problematic and that 19 years have passed since the study was conducted. 

Zielinski said that in the case that a wall is approved, immediate satisfaction is not realistic.

"They're going to have to go through FDOT and get the funding approved, the whole bureaucratic process," Zielinski said. "By the time the tug-of-war ends, it could be two years down the road, it could be three years down the road."

A wall was previously constructed for the Summerfield development, which exists alongside S.R. 70, just west of Greenbrook. At that time, Greenbrook residents lobbied for their own wall.

"When they started talking about the sound wall, I thought, "We'll definitely get it,'" Carney said.

Yet, the efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. 


Resident complaints

Kevin Browning, who also lives on Glossy Ibis Place, had his home built in 2002 and said the noise is a constant nuisance for him. As a result, he hopes to have hinged shutters installed on his windows to mitigate the sound. To block out noise at night, he uses a sound generator that mimics low vibration sounds, such as "one of those loud hotel air conditioners."

As a former emergency room director at Blake Hospital in Bradenton, Browning said he appreciates the importance of wide roads for ambulances. He said that at the time he bought the home, he was aware the road would be widened but did not realize the effect the changes would have because he expected the widening to take place in the direction of the road median, rather than toward the neighborhood.

Greenbrook's Veronica Belmont, Joe O'Neill, Jenifer Dodson, and Rita Carney discuss a solution to the noise problems.

Veronica Belmont, another resident of Glossy Ibis Place, said the general sound of the traffic doesn’t bother her as it does others, comparing it to the sound of surf. However, she said she is bothered by vehicles with mufflers designed to make them louder, and that she thinks cars speeding is contributing to much of the noise. She said the sounds are “embarrassing” when friends and family come to stay at her home.

Belmont said the problem began with the installation of a traffic light at the intersection of Greenbrook Boulevard and S.R. 70 about four years ago. Although she had initially believed the light would improve the situation, she found the opposite occurred.

"Just as the light turns yellow, they go screaming through it," she said. "It makes a real racket. Sometimes on the weekend, you’ll wake up during the night, around 2 o'clock in the morning.”

Belmont said that although she hopes a solution can be uncovered, for aesthetic reasons, she does not want a wall. Instead, she suggested more patrolling as a potential solution.

Tarron Khemraj, a Glossy Ibis Place resident, said he can't use the lanai to have dinner outside anymore due to the noise.

"It's gotten really bad where you really cannot be outdoors," Khemraj said. "If you close the windows once you're inside, there's a little bit of relief, but it's still not as quiet as it used to be."

Kathy Black, who lives on Glossy Ibis Place, said after installing sound-resistant windows, she and her husband have noticed a great improvement. "But that was $11,000," she said, explaining that she still hopes for noise mitigation so that residents do not have to pay such a high price.

According to Zielinski, one related complaint from residents is likely to be rectified much sooner, as improvements to a berm separating a portion of east Greenbrook from S.R. 70 are potentially on the way. The Inter-District Authority is looking into the possibility of replacing the plants, based on recommendations Kimley-Horn would provide.

"The plant improvements are going to be a no-brainer," Zielinski said. "The expectations are that we’ll probably proceed with that."

He noted that the original trees have grown higher, resulting in visibility of cars and car headlights. Carney and Belmont also said the berm is in great need of maintenance, and O'Neill hopes for the berm to be extended to the area of his home.

Erosion of the berm was reported by Browning, who said that he can now see over it from either side. However, Zielinski said it is unlikely the berm would be heightened to block out sound, in the case that a wall is built.

“The berm implemented in the Greenbrook system was much higher than the berm in Summerfield,” Zielinski said. “There would be no cause to increase the height and have a wall as well.”

The anticipated start date for the enhancements is approximately the middle of June. Initiating the project at that time allows the district to reduce costs by making use of rainwater instead of irrigable water.

However, with the uncertainty surrounding a solution to the noise issues, residents still hope for an answer.

"I feel that too many excuses are being made," Khemraj said. "The wall should have been done 21 years ago."

District officials said they are currently managing the situation as best they can.

“It’s not going to be remedied or rectified within a month,” Zielinski said. “We are on top of it, with the powers enabled by the district.”

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