By John Toole
---- — Neighborhoods along Interstate 93 look like others on a late summer day.
People sit on back stairs and work in yards with kids at play nearby.
They just sound different.
The $800 million highway widening beyond their decks and fences provides a chorus of construction noise.
There is the repetitive beep of vehicles backing, the slamming of tailgates on oversized dump trucks, the pounding of backhoes into the earth.
"I'm being woken up between 5:30 and 6 in the morning," Michelle Everett said yesterday in the yard of her Jewell Drive home in Salem.
"My house is shaking," Everett said. "It's so noisy."
Up the highway in Windham, Squire Armour Road neighbors Matt Killian and Jim Weeks know the feeling.
"On this side of the street, I call it a dull roar," Killian said of the highway noise past Weeks's house.
Residents have complained about the removal of trees during construction, because they afforded some protection from the noise.
"We can see Canobie's fireworks so much better now," Everett said with a laugh.
Weeks estimates he spent about $11,000 for his personal sound wall — a fence, 8 feet tall and 90 feet long — to cut down on the noise, some of which it deflects, but not all.
Voices are raised in conversation to be heard.
The construction rattles his home.
"The house vibrates," Weeks said. "You can hear the windows vibrate."
This isn't just a concern about sound. I-93 neighbors also worry about what it means when it comes time to sell a home.
"This has definitely dented property values here, I believe," Killian said.
In Concord, the Legislature has a study committee meeting this summer and fall to consider how to help neighborhoods like these.
Rep. Keith Murphy, R-Bedford, raised the issue at the Statehouse when construction around the Everett Turnpike and the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport access road affected more than a dozen of his constituents.
The Salem neighborhood is scheduled to get a sound wall, but the ones in Bedford and Windham are not.
They've been told by state officials they don't meet the requirements.
Simply put, there aren't enough houses in the neighborhood to benefit from sound mitigation to justify the expense under the formula used by the state.
"To me, that seems very un-New Hampshire," Murphy testified before a Senate panel last spring. "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."
The committee has until Nov. 1 to issue a report with recommendations for the Legislature to consider.
Rep. Kevin Waterhouse, R-Windham, serves on the committee.
"I will be glad to see if Windham can use what we learn," Waterhouse said.
To the people who live in neighborhoods affected by the I-93 widening, there are things the state ought to do.
"Put up a sound wall," Weeks said.
Weeks and Killian agree state officials should, as Murphy has suggested, revisit that formula to make it easier for neighborhoods to get a sound wall.
"That would be totally beneficial to everyone involved," Weeks said.
Murphy's point to lawmakers was the Legislature should get involved and not just leave it up to state transportation officials.
Everett and her husband, Mike, would like to see their sound wall project expedited, to bring relief sooner.
But something simple that could help would be if construction crews delayed their morning start, they said.
"I want to shout out my window, 'Shut those trucks up,'" Mike Everett said. "I just don't think they need to start trucks before 6:30."
Killian wonders whether towns should be able to grant tax breaks to residents affected by such projects.
"This has an impact on residents," he said.
The I-93 neighbors understand the widening project is necessary.
"I understand the widening project has to occur because there's more traffic on the road," Mike Everett said.
They aren't planning to move, even though the project is much bigger and noisier than they anticipated.
They just want to see it done quickly and in a way that makes it a little easier to live nearby.
"A fence only does so much," Weeks said.