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The Quest for Quiet Could Take 25 Years

January 05, 1986|JILL STEWART | Times Staff Writer

Warren Kimball knows that sometime around the year 2010, his street will be blessed with a silence it has not experienced in decades.

That's when Caltrans predicts that his Carson neighborhood, along the San Diego Freeway just north of Long Beach, will get a long-awaited sound wall to cut down the never-ending drone of cars and trucks.

On a 25-year-long waiting list of about 240 neighborhoods awaiting state sound wall construction funds, his area is ranked 229th.

Hasn't Got the Time

But Kimball, an engineer now retired from many years of work on the federal space program, says he hasn't got 25 years to wait.

Vibrations from the freeway, 35 feet behind his bedroom, have cracked the walls in his home. If he opens his front door, the din of traffic bounces off houses across the street directly into his living room.

His wife, Pearl, has given up trying to use the back yard or patio for outdoor eating or relaxing, because it sounds, she said "like a factory rumbling along out there."

In the last few days, Kimball has launched a petition drive along his street, 221st Place, and other nearby streets east of Alameda Street, where he estimates about 180 homes are adversely affected by freeway noise.

Monday night he will present his appeal to the Carson City Council, which he hopes will agree to finance an independent noise study to persuade Caltrans to bump his neighborhood much higher up on the waiting list.

"I've driven on the Long Beach Freeway to the San Bernardino Freeway, and I've driven the 405 from Garden Grove to Mulholland, and there's no neighborhood out there that needs a sound wall like we do," Kimball said.

"There are houses on the end of our street where if you rolled a marble off the freeway it would hit them," he said.

Caltrans Formula

Nevertheless, Caltrans officials say the neighborhood does not need a sound wall as badly as more than 200 other communities in the state, based on a formula that considers decibel levels from traffic, the number of people affected by the noise, and the ability of a sound wall to cut down the noise.

Sound levels recorded by Caltrans in the neighborhood are above the minimum--67 decibels, about the level of a vacuum cleaner or loud conversation--required for the California Transportation Commission to consider an area for sound wall funding.

But the neighborhood is not noisy enough to be near the top of the funding list, said Bill Minter, director of Caltrans' sound wall program in Southern California.

"These people have a valid complaint--they all do--but they just don't qualify" to be moved up on the list, Minter said.

"We'd like to do the right thing by these residents, give a sound wall to everybody who has complained," Minter said. "But I spend a lot of my time explaining to them why it can't be done."

25 Walls Built

According to Minter, Caltrans since 1983 has built only 25 of the hundreds of sound walls that are needed.

Because sound wall funding is an extremely low priority in the Caltrans budget, communities at the bottom of the list face a wait of more than two decades. Neighborhoods that are not on that list have little hope of ever getting a sound wall, Minter said.

"When I tell people at the end of the list how long it takes, they say to me, 'I'll be dead by the time we get a sound wall,' " Minter said. "Actually, that's about the size of it."

Minter agrees that the Carson neighborhood is a victim of urban growth. Most homes in the modest middle-class neighborhood were there long before the freeway opened in the 1960s.

Intolerable Situation

Since then, neighbors say, the steadily increasing traffic--especially the big trucks bound for the nearby harbor district--has turned a tolerable situation into an intolerable one.

"People who have never been in my home (before) think the cars are going to come right into the house," said Judy Swearingen.

"We put a deck on the front of the house because we cannot use the back. The sound is just too much," she said.

The constant din is not the only problem. A few months ago, a tire from a passing truck flew more than 25 feet off the freeway overpass behind the homes, furrowed through a nearby yard and snapped the natural gas line to the home.

Gas company crews fixed the line, but neighbors are now more wary than ever of the freeway in their backyards.

Car in Backyard

Swearingen said that in 1972, a car swerved off the freeway and landed upside down in her backyard, within a few feet of where her children usually play. Luckily, they were inside when it happened.

"We put up a cinder block wall after that, and we've built a reinforced back wall in our house, and a closet along the back too. That way we feel a car would have to go through an awful lot before it could hit us," Swearingen said.

Kimball says that Caltrans officials say "they are only responsible for sound, and they want to keep it that way."

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