Saturday, April 21, 2018
News Roundup

Neighbors push for noise barrier on I-75

SAN ANTONIO — John and Sally Hart can't hear themselves over the swoosh of traffic, and vibrations are causing cracks in their kitchen ceiling.

Bill Bushey says he and his wife, Wilma, rarely venture into their grassy back yard.

"It's beautiful, but you can't use it," he says.

And Kathy Oney worries a tire will fly into her house. It nearly happened in 2007, a year after she moved in, when a truck tire came careening into a neighbor's yard.

Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club residents say they've put up with noise and vibrations for years from Interstate 75, which runs along the east side of their 1,500-home development. It's so close, they can see the highway from their kitchens.

Now they worry that a pending expansion of the interstate will bring even more noise and possibly other problems.

"I worry about an accident, a truck coming off the highway," said Debbie "Pokey" Gibson.

The residents want a mile-long concrete barrier between the interstate and their development, which is visible to motorists through shrubs, long-leaf pines and other trees. State transportation officials say that's not going to happen.

Many residents have a 6-foot vinyl fence in their back yards now, but say it barely contains the noise, which reverberates at all hours.

"Put it this way, you can't have a conversation out there," said John Hart, a retired police officer from Rhode Island.

Some neighbors have tried to adjust, installing double-pane glass, which has helped. But others, like Hart, 77, say the Department of Transportation should step in and build the wall.

"They have one down the road, and those houses are set back from the interstate," he said, referring to the Enclave development in Hillsborough County just west of the interstate, about a mile south of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

Hart and others have pushed the DOT for years to change its plans. They got the department's attention a couple of years ago, when the state agreed to make changes during a neighborhood meeting.

Engineers revised their plans to add a southbound lane to the inside shoulder, in the median, instead of along the outside shoulder closer to the development. They also agreed to add more landscaping.

The department is planning to widen the highway from four to six lanes between State Road 52 and County Road 54.

The $71.3 million project includes upgrades to the SR 52 interchange and workers are already clearing brush there as well as on parts of I-75. The entire project is expected to last three years.

Hart says he's appreciative of the DOT's efforts, but he insists they don't go far enough for the community of mostly retirees.

Lately, he's led a one-man crusade to build support for the barrier. He's collected petitions that he plans to send to the governor. So far, he has about 200 signatures.

"It's not just the noise," he said. "It's a safety issue. What if there's an explosion?"

So far, the DOT is entrenched in its position opposing the wall.

Adding it would inflate the road project by millions, although a firm estimate has yet to be worked up.

Furthermore, the department says the residents moved to the Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club fully aware of the interstate's proximity and should build the wall themselves if they want it.

Additionally, the department let it be known publicly that it planned to widen the highway as far back as November 2000.

Had the Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club already existed at that time, the department might have taken a different position, but at that time only seven houses were built or permitted there. The community's developer should have built the wall, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

"It shouldn't be up to the taxpayers to put up a wall for a private development," she said.

It's unlikely Hart will convince transportation officials to alter their position. Regardless, he says he's not backing down.

"We've never backed down," he said. "We're still working on this. This is a community of senior citizens. It's not right."

Contact Rich Shopes at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236. Follow @richshopes.

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