KEYSTONE — Jill Galusha has a patio that overlooks the woods in her back yard, a perfect spot to settle back in the late afternoon and soak up nature.
"I love to hear the crickets and the frogs,'' she said.
What she and her husband, Kyle, don't love to hear is the steady whoosh, like a muted hurricane, coming from the other side of the house. It's the traffic on the Veterans Expressway, about 35 yards from the property line.
"You hear it constantly,'' she said.
Unfortunately for the Galushas, the house on Lake Le Clare Road is too isolated to qualify for a sound-reduction wall. It's not "cost reasonable,'' said Christa Deason, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation.
Many of the residents in the area around Hutchison Road worry about the increased noise when the expressway expands from four to eight lanes in the next two years. Nancy Tracy, who also lives on Lake Le Clare Road, is a leader in the effort to rally neighbors around this issue. She wants a sound-reduction wall built from Half Moon Lake Road north beyond Storm Road to the Suncoast Parkway. Deason said they'll get an opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions at a meeting with her and DOT officials at the Keystone Civic Center in late October.
"We still think there is an open window to change their minds,'' Tracy said.
Deason said recent studies by DOT showed that four neighborhoods in that area of the Veterans qualify for sound-reduction walls — Lake Leta Trace, Bella Vista, Shaw Place and Turtle Crossing.
Carol Colin, president of the Lake Leta Trace Home Owners Association, said she is thrilled her subdivision has qualified for a wall. She and her husband, Brian, like to sit outside, but they have to put up with the constant noise of traffic to the east of them. "It's deafening, really.''
Highway engineers checked and found that the noise level at Lake Leta Trace and the other communities reached an average of at least 66 decibels — a little louder than conversational speech — during the noisiest hour of the day. Walls aren't considered unless they can reduce the noise by at least 5 decibels.
Noise isn't the only concern, however. Tracy and other neighbors complain about the flooding in the area.
They contend that when the expressway was built in the 1990s, it interrupted the natural westerly flow of water from lake to lake.
Tom Aderhold, who lives on Lake Le Clare, said, "The bottom line on water is: Re-establish the natural outflow of the lakes and connections between the lakes … Nature had it set up the way it worked, and man came in and screwed it up.''
He said that by running culverts under the road bed, the DOT "could very easily re-establish the connection between our lake and Lake Rock,'' on the west side of the expressway.
Deason, who noted that the residents in the area live in a flood plain, said that before the expressway was built, DOT had to get approval from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and other agencies regulating water flow in the area. "We didn't interrupt any flow,'' she said. She said retention ponds handle drainage from the expressway itself.
Aderhold said the construction of the expressway had to interrupt the water flow. He said that getting a permit from Swiftmud "doesn't mean squat.'' All that is required to get the permit is for DOT to demonstrate that the water is being managed, "whether it is or it isn't,'' he said, and as long as Swiftmud has such a document, then the agency is off the hook.
Deason said she plans to have plenty of experts on hand to answer residents' questions at the October meeting.
"I promised Ms. Tracy that I'd have drainage engineers, sound engineers, civil engineers, all kinds of engineers out there to address everybody's concern.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.