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November 1, 2013

N.H. panel wants more study of highway noise issue

Highway noise

WINDHAM — A special legislative panel considering ways to help homeowners affected by highway noise is calling for more study of the issue.

“We completed our report to the speaker and suggested legislation that would keep a commission working on the issue,” Rep. Kevin Waterhouse, R-Windham, said.

Waterhouse represents a community hard hit by highway noise.

Interstate 93 runs through Windham and residents of the Squire Armour Road neighborhood for years have pressed unsuccessfully for the state to build a sound wall.

“When legislation is brought before the Transportation or Public Works committee I will present our findings and support the bill,” Waterhouse said.

Waterhouse was one of five House members who served on the study panel this summer and fall.

It emerged from a bill Rep. Keith Murphy, R-Bedford, sponsored last session to aid homeowners.

Murphy represents neighborhoods near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport access road that also have suffered from highway noise.

Murphy, testifying on his bill, said some Bedford residents had been told they didn’t qualify for a sound wall under the formula used by the state.

“To me, that seems very un-New Hampshire,” Murphy testified.

“To have this attitude that, well, we look out for the property values or rights of 15 people, but not eight. That seemed to be very strange to me,” Murphy testified.

The study committee also will suggest tweaking the state formula, which ties sound wall construction costs to noise level reductions experienced by neighborhoods.

“We are also suggesting that the Department of Transportation increase the amount per home threshold,” Waterhouse said.

The committee is recommending a $5,000 per home increase, Waterhouse said.

“DOT does not feel that there will be any adverse effect in making this small change,” he said.

It’s unclear whether such a change would have made a difference for the Windham neighborhood, because state policy also requires a sound wall be able to reduce noise a minimum of 5 decibels.

State officials two years ago told Squire Armour residents their review concluded that no noise barrier configurations would meet the cost criteria while providing adequate noise protection.

The Legislature will take up the study panel’s report in January.

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