Chuck Wright and his Heatherstone neighbors hear the kind of steady white noise in their backyards that those who live on the coast enjoy. But Wright and his neighbors don’t find the noise terribly relaxing.
Residents whose homes are near Seattle Hill Road have dealt more and more with noise from ever-growing traffic volumes.
“It’s nice if you think of the ocean,” said Wright, whose backyard fronts Seattle Hill Road’s north side. “It’s like constant ocean waves, but not as fun or relaxing.”
The problem comes not only from commuters, but gravel trucks, moving trucks, delivery trucks, all of which use the two-lane road as a means to get to newer homes and businesses that have sprung up east of Mill Creek.
“You wouldn’t know (it’s a two-lane road),” Wright says. “I hear it all the time. I block it out.”
Part of the problem is even though areas east of Mill Creek have seen explosive growth this decade, there are few east-west routes in the area for drivers to use. Only 132nd Street SE has four lanes going from Interstate 5 to Highway 9, and Wright says the problem of noise on Seattle Hill Road became worse when 132nd was extended to Highway 9 three and half years ago. There isn’t anything residents can do, however, since road noise is exempt from city noise laws, police chief Bob Crannell said.
Wright said the noise generally begins around 5:30 a.m. and remains steady until 7:30 at night. The noise became so intolerable that he and his wife Karen Brandon spent $5,000 on special double pane windows for their bedroom, which faces Seattle Hill Road.
The Enterprise conducted decibel readings at Wright’s home to determine how much noise traffic is creating. Results show that noise pollution is increasing for residents who live along Seattle Hill Road. Readings taken on his backyard deck on Monday, Dec. 4 and Tuesday, Dec. 5, both during the evening rush hour, show that traffic creates an average decibel reading in the 60s, jumping to near 70 whenever trucks drive by.
Noise levels increase as one gets closer to the road. Near the backyard fence, which faces Seattle Hill Road’s sidewalk, average decibel levels were in the mid-70s, topping out at 80.5 decibels.
A decibel level in the 60s is what the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association classifies as “very loud” noise. The level produced by Seattle Hill Road traffic is close to what the association says busy traffic will produce. Noise levels exceeding 80 decibels are considered “hazardous” by the association.
The city, meanwhile, wants to conduct a traffic study of Seattle Hill Road. The public works department is seeking $75,000 in the next two-year budget to hire traffic engineers to examine noise and air pollution and offer suggestions to remedy the problems.
“We’ve had numerous complaints about congested traffic, noise levels, speeding and people cutting through residential areas to avoid delays on Seattle Hill Road,” public works director Tim Burns said.
The study would begin in late winter or early spring, Burns said.
City manager Steve Nolen and Mayor Donna Michelson, meanwhile, recently discussed the problem with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
“I got a good feeling she would be sensitive to our problem,” Michelson said. “It’s impacting the lifestyle of people who moved here thinking they were moving to a rural area.”
City officials were hoping to receive federal funds to conduct a study of Seattle Hill traffic, but instead will likely conduct the study with city funds, then seek federal reimbursement, Michelson said. The city would also seek federal funds to fix the problem under the guise that a solution would address noise and air pollution problems.
Even though her home doesn’t border Seattle Hill Road, Michelson said the traffic problem affects her.
“It’s a street I run and walk on every day,” she said. “I won’t even take my dog for a walk along (that road) anymore. I told Senator Murray that.”