Long Acres residents seek noise wall

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For years, Buz Donnelly and his neighbors in the Long Acres neighborhood, which borders Interstate 295, have been pushing for a wall to cut down on the noise from the cars and trucks that rush past on the highway.

While the noise wall has yet to be built, the New Jersey Department of Transportation did repave a stretch of I-295 with a type of asphalt that reduces noise levels and also reduces hydroplaning in wet weather a few years ago.

But recently, that asphalt was removed and I-295 was repaved with conventional asphalt that has increased the road noise from the highway – and that’s why Donnelly approached Lawrence Township Council for help.

The noise from cars and trucks on I-295 is 50- to 75-percent higher and it lasts longer since the road was repaved, Donnelly told the Lawrence Township Council at its April 2 meeting.

“I can hear them from far away. The noise builds to a crescendo,” said Donnelly, whose home backs up to the highway.

“You could see them but not hear them, but now you can see them and hear them. The sound is worse than it has ever been,” he said.

Donnelly reminded the Lawrence Township Council that the Long Acres residents have been lobbying for the construction of a noise wall for years – and the New Jersey Department of Transportation has been promising to build it for years.

Most of the houses in the Long Acres neighborhood, which is located behind the Lawrence Township Municipal Building, were built in the 1960s and predate construction of the interstate highway.

Residents claim the noise from I-295, which was built in 1974, interferes with their enjoyment of their homes. The interstate highway was built several feet above grade level – above their houses – and it contributes to the noise level.

Former Gov. Jim Florio included money for the construction of a noise barrier in the early 1990s, but the plans were shelved after he lost his re-election bid.

The issue surfaced again in 1999, when the stage agency agreed to build a noise wall if the township would contribute toward its costs – but subsequent changes in federal regulations banned towns from contributing money toward it.

Then-New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere agreed in 2005 to build a noise wall – a 13-foot-tall wooden wall that would have cost an estimated $3.2 million – but the plan was put aside again in 2008 when the department’s priorities shifted to roadway and bridge projects.

Lawrence Township officials have continued to lobby for the noise wall, but each time the request has been rejected for financial reasons – even after the fuel tax was increased to provide funding for the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Transportation Trust Fund.

“They used the Transportation Trust Fund as an excuse, but now (the trust fund) is in pretty good health,” Donnelly said.

“We are here to ask you to help us go back to the New Jersey Department of Transportation, especially since they resurfaced the road and the noise has picked up. We are asking you to help us get it done,” Donnelly told Township Council.

Mayor Christopher Bobbitt thanked Donnelly for coming to the Lawrence Township Council meeting about the issue.

“It is definitely something we can talk to our representatives (at the state and federal level) about,” Mayor Bobbitt said.

Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski said after the meeting that he would follow up with state Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Hunterdon, Mercer), and with the New Jersey Department of Transportation.