A moment of silence, please: Timothy Hayes, Interstate
90 and the remains of the trees that kept them apart.
Photo by: John Whipple
Park residents push to turn down the volume of their noisy
neighbor, Interstate 90
an average day, more than 100,000 vehicles pass less than
50 feet behind Timothy Hayes’ home. And, said Hayes, hecan
hear every one of them.
even louder now,” said Hayes, a resident of Albany’s Shaker
Park neighborhood, located just to the north of Interstate
90’s westbound lane between exits 5A and 6. The line of trees
between his home and the highway were removed several weeks
ago as part of the I-90 reconstruction project.
Department of Transportation] claims that the trees weren’t
reducing any noise,” added Hayes, “but I know that they were.
They don’t live here—I do.”
According to a DOT study conducted in 2001, Hayes’ home—along
with 22 other residences—borders the loudest section of I-90’s
toll-free corridor that cuts through Albany. This stretch
of highway, which has experienced massive increases in traffic
over the last few years, registered a noise level at peak
time of 80 decibels—highest among the 84 sections of I-90
that were studied.
While the study also acknowledged that a noise-reducing barrier
would be appropriate and cost-effective for this stretch of
highway, federal guidelines exempt the $48 million dollar
I-90 reconstruction plan from the standard mandates on noise
can’t consider the sound walls unless funding comes from another
source,” explained Pete Van Keuren, a spokesman for DOT.
Federal noise-reduction policy makes barriers necessary only
for those projects where construction of a new highway or
lane of traffic creates a significant noise impact on the
surrounding area. However, the reconstruction of I-90 doesn’t
involve any expansion of the existing highway, and as such,
requires both approval and additional funding from the state
Legislature for construction of any noise barriers—additional
funding that, according to state Assemblyman Jack McEneny
(D-Albany), may not be available.
According to McEneny, the most likely source of funding for
noise walls would be intermodal transportation money, a pool
of funds provided by the federal government for maintenance
of states’ sidewalks, bridges and other transportation needs.
get something in the hundreds of thousands [in intermodal
transportation funding],” said McEneny, “but requests run
into the millions. I suspect Shaker Park will need at least
An initial DOT estimate placed a $776,000 price tag on construction
of a barrier 6.5 meters high and 478 meters long that would
reduce traffic noise by 9 decibels—effectively halving the
level of noise. The study points out early on, however, that
costs associated with landscaping, traffic maintenance and
other factors could increase the project’s overall cost anywhere
from 25 to 100 percent over the initial estimate.
Albany Common Council member Michael O’Brien (Ward 12), whose
district includes several homes in the Shaker Park neighborhood,
argued that the cost of muffling I-90 could be reduced with
alternate forms of noise reduction. While O’Brien acknowledged
that the use of an earth berm in conjunction with trees and
shrubs would not be practical as the sole form of noise barrier—the
division between house and highway narrows to only a few dozen
feet at some points along the I-90 corridor—he questioned
whether a combination of berms and artificial walls might
be less expensive.
DOT] says a berm would be cheaper than a [manmade] wall,”
explained O’Brien, “and there’s only about 50 feet where it’s
too narrow. . . . I don’t understand why this wasn’t considered
in the [DOT] report.”
When asked about this arrangement, Van Keuren agreed that
such a combination might bring down the project’s price tag,
but added that any solid estimates would require additional
DOT analysis—and additional state funding.
Exacerbating many Shaker Park residents’ concerns is the planned
expansion of Route 85 in Bethlehem—a stretch of highway that
will have noise walls erected despite seeing less than a quarter
of the traffic that passes along I-90.
know we’re a small community,” reasoned John Paneto, a 22-year
resident of the Shaker Park neighborhood and president of
the Shaker Park Neighborhood Association, “but we shouldn’t
have to be continuously trying to get state officials to do
what they should have done years ago.”
While Paneto and O’Brien conceded that years of effort have
thus far yielded little progress in bringing a barrier to
Shaker Park’s border, both men expressed hope that an upcoming
late-August meeting between McEneny, O’Brien and some of the
Shaker Park residents would yield positive results. According
to McEneny, the need for a barrier between Shaker Park and
I-90 was “very justified” and he looked forward to “sitting
down with the neighbors and a map and figuring out what is
needed and what can be done.”
In the meantime, DOT has already begun replacing the trees
behind Hayes’ home, but it is expected that it will take several
years for the new trees to reach the height of their predecessors.
I want is for something—anything—to be done,” explained Hayes.
“I can’t even close my windows without being reminded that
there’s a highway right outside.”
You Won’t, We Will
general sue utilities for global warming, picking up where
the EPA left off
York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and attorneys general
of seven other states and New York City sued major energy
companies in late July to require reduced carbon dioxide emissions
in an effort to help curb global warming.
U.S. is the largest emitter of carbon gases on the planet,
and those five companies that are named in the lawsuit account
for 10 percent of the entire U.S. production of carbon gases,”
said Mark Violette, a spokesman in Spitzer’s office. “From
our perspective this was the way to gain a fairly quick level
of relief, a fairly quick level of carbon-gas reductions by
looking at these five companies.”
The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages; rather the attorneys
general demand an annual 3-percent reduction in carbon emissions
for 10 years. The case is against five major utility companies—American
Electric Power Company, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Xcel
Energy Inc. Cinergy Corporation, and the Southern Company—which
comprise one quarter of the utility industry’s carbon emissions.
Though global warming is debated by industry-friendly hardliners,
a growing body of research—including one study in 2001 by
the National Academy of Sciences prepared at the request of
President Bush—suggests that carbon dioxide and similar heat-trapping
emissions are the primary source of global warming. Carbon
emissions are not currently regulated by the Clean Air Act,
but Violette believes if the act were written now, “carbon
would probably be the first thing that you’d regulate.” Spitzer
has another suit pending against the Environmental Protection
Agency for refusing his petition to regulate carbon emissions.
some cases you cannot rely on federal agencies always to act
on your behalf,” Violette said. “That’s why the states took
action against these five utilities on our own rather than
requesting that the EPA do it, because EPA claims that it
The utility companies are being sued under federal “public
nuisance” laws. These laws are part of federal common law
and were used to protect the public against pollution before
environmental regulations were on the books, and are the basis
for many of the country’s environmental laws. Critics say
the attorneys general are trying to write environmental law