Living 99 feet from the Ventura Freeway for 12 years has taught Thomas Melatis a thing or two.
For one, he's learned that you have to speak up at his house if you want to be heard over the noise of traffic.
For another, he has discovered that you can shout your head off about the problem and still not catch the ear of state and local officials.
That's why the Agoura Hills resident wired a sound meter to his portable home computer in hope of finally persuading authorities to build a $370,000 sound wall in front of his neighborhood.
The computer automatically recorded noise levels every 10 minutes for five days to prove that the freeway noise is dangerously high--and well above a state guideline used to determine when sound walls will be constructed.
"It's the same as a freight train going by your house for 7 1/2 out of every 10 minutes during the day," said Melatis, an electrical engineer. "I knew it was loud. But it's louder, and louder longer, than I thought."
Priority List for Walls
Melatis went to work after state Department of Transportation engineers reacted to earlier complaints from his Lake Lindero community by noting that noise had to be 67 decibels for the area to get on a sound wall "priority" list.
Such a designation can cut the normal 12-year waiting period for wall construction in half, Caltrans says.
Caltrans spokesman Thomas Knox said homeowners living along other freeways have taken noise readings that were not accurate. But most of those homeowners merely went outside with a hand-held noise meter and a pencil and paper.
Melatis wrote a sophisticated computer program and spent $200 on equipment linking his computer to a sound meter. The system was rigged to note each time a sound reading was 70 decibels or higher--leaving room for error above the state limit.
The computer determined that freeway noise in Melatis' front yard was louder than 70 decibels more than half the time over the five-day test. During the daytime, it was that noisy virtually all the time.
Report to Officials
The results have been tabulated in a 23-page report that the Lake Lindero Homeowners Assn. is sending to the state Department of Transportation, local legislators and officials of Los Angeles County and Agoura Hills.
"We'll certainly take a look at his report," Knox said Friday. "We would certainly go back and take our own readings, though. I don't think we would react unilaterally, solely on readings from an outside source."
Agoura Hills officials said Friday that Melatis' findings will be compared with professional freeway noise measurements from a city-contracted monitoring firm.
Verified high-decibel readings, coupled with high homeowner interest in a sound wall, could lead to city involvement in a wall construction project, a spokeswoman said.
That kind of talk is music to Melatis' ears.
"Now that we have real numbers, we can show people we have a real problem," he said, raising his voice over the noise of a passing truck.
"Look at the sound level meter. That one hit 94 decibels."