Residents of La Canada Flintridge have had a little success in their long battle for relief from noise generated by traffic on the Foothill Freeway. But not enough, they say. Their fight for more sound walls is still on.
"When I get talking about this . . . I feel like I could go to war," Carol Back, a neighborhood activist, said, shaking her fists in the air.
Back has lived for 23 years on Nancy Way in a two-story home a few hundred feet from the Foothill Freeway, which opened in La Canada Flintridge in 1972. Noise from trucks and cars has forced her to keep her doors and windows shut and makes it difficult to sleep at night, Back said. She and others want a sound wall built along a stretch of the freeway between Berkshire Place and Hampton Road.
But, in about 70 noise level tests taken by the California Department of Transportation, that site and others in La Canada Flintridge have continually fallen a few decibels short of qualifying for the long list of communities awaiting construction of sound walls to abate freeway traffic noise. The most recent tests were taken last summer.
Caltrans has built sound walls in three other locations near the city's eastern border. But many residents in the affluent community of 20,000, including city and school officials, expect traffic and, therefore, noise, to increase once a proposed linkup of the Long Beach and Foothill freeways is completed. They want existing sound walls extended and new ones built.
"When Route 7 is completed, the problem will be worse and affect more people," Back said of the Long Beach Freeway extension. "That noise will be echoing throughout this whole valley."
Caltrans officials estimate it will be another five to 10 years before work begins on the freeway connection through South Pasadena. Based on computer projections, the agency is predicting that the freeway connection will cause little, if any, increase in freeway noise in La Canada Flintridge.
In any case, many homeowners say freeway noise is already intolerable. A year ago, Bob Day bought a home on Parkdale Place in a small canyon near the interchange of the Foothill and Glendale freeways. He and his wife were attracted to the neighborhood, Day said, and figured they could learn to live with the noise. But the Foothill Freeway passes within 80 feet of their house, Day said.
"Let me tell you, it's hard to get used to," he said. "I love to sit outside but I can't. After five minutes, my nerves are set on end. It's almost as if you are housebound."
Day said he asked Caltrans to take noise readings last year but was told that the neighborhood had been tested two years earlier and did not qualify for a sound wall. He could build his noise wall in his backyard, but said, "I'd have to build a 40-foot-tall block wall for it to help me."
The loudest demand for construction of sound walls comes from residents living north and south of the freeway near the city's eastern border, especially Back's neighborhood between Berkshire Place and Hampton Road, according to City Manager Don Otterman.
Among the protesters are teachers and administrators at Flintridge Preparatory and St. Francis High School. The freeway passes within a few yards of the schools. Caltrans has already installed triple-thick windows, reinforced doors and air conditioning to keep the schools' classrooms nearest the freeway insulated from the rumble.
School officials argue that those measures do nothing to cut down noise in the school yards and force children and teachers to remain sealed up in their classrooms.
"On a nice day, teachers and students want to open the windows and doors. It's more comfortable," said John McCarthy, financial director of Flintridge Prep. "They can't do that. . . . They have to stop in the middle of a sentence to wait for a noisy truck to go by."
McCarthy added that the school has to pay the energy bills for the air conditioning Caltrans installed to muffle noise.
City officials are convinced that sound walls are needed, but they have no way of solving the problem, Otterman said. "We have to qualify based on state regulations, just like everybody else," he said. "At this point, there isn't much we can do except request periodic testing."
The city, however, also is waiting to hear whether the federal Department of Transportation will grant its request for a review of the environmental impact report on the proposed Long Beach Freeway extension. Otterman said the city does not believe Caltrans adequately addressed the issue of an increase in noise, and it is requesting that construction of sound walls be included in federal funding for the project.
"It's very difficult to accept the fact that we've done everything that we can and we didn't win" the fight with Caltrans, he said. "We're not going to just forget it."
If city officials and residents aren't ready to forget about building sound walls in La Canada Flintridge, Caltrans is.