Commentary: Highway sound barriers are a waste of money — and selfish

One and a half million dollars a mile. The cost of building a new lane on Interstate 95? Hardly — that’s more like $20 million.

No, “$1.5 million dollars a mile” would be the cost of building new sound barriers on that crowded highway, according to testimony by Connecticut’s Department of Transportation commissioner.

This won’t win me many friends among my neighbors in Darien, but I just don’t see that they should be asking the government to subsidize their peace and quiet. After all, most of them bought houses near the highway, benefiting from speedy access to the roadway, and should have known full well that being that close would subject them to noise.

Do you have sympathy for those who buy homes near airport runways, then complain about the jets? Neither do I.

The first sections of what became I-95 were built in Darien in 1954, long before most current residents came to town. Sure, traffic has increased on I-95 over the years. We are well over the planned capacity of this interstate highway.

But thinking the solution to highway noise is to create a walled concrete canyon through our coastal communities paid for by others is just selfish and shortsighted.

Think of the noise as surf at the beach

I live about 1,500 feet from I-95. On a quiet summer’s night I can hear the trucks as they whiz by at 70 mph, especially when they’re “Jake braking” (illegal in many states). And yes, there is a wooden sound barrier between me and the road, which helps a bit.

I try to think of the highway noise as being like surf at the beach. But when shopping for my current home, I knew that highway noise was the price I would pay for being so near an on-ramp.

Some neighbors in my town, and many others, want the state or Uncle Sam to build miles and miles of new sound barriers to cushion their karmic calm. But why should the few benefit at the expense of so many?

Can we really argue that someone in Tolland or Torrington should pay for sound barriers in Westport or Greenwich?

Limited benefits, and some alternatives

Sound barriers seem to me to be wasted money. They don’t reduce accidents, improve safety or solve congestion. Two miles of sound barriers would buy a new M8 rail car on Metro-North, taking 100 passengers off the road.

And sound barriers are often just sound-reflectors, not absorbers, only bouncing the sound off to bother others.

Consider these alternatives:

Sound-proof the homes: This has worked well for neighbors of big airports and probably is cheaper than sound-proofing entire neighborhoods. And insulation against noise also insulates against heat loss, saving energy.

Explore rubberized asphalt: Reduce the road noise at its source, literally where the “rubber meets the road.” Using this new road surface, some highways have seen a 12-decibel reduction in noise. Rubberized asphalt also reuses 12 million junked tires each year.

Pay for it yourself: Let neighborhood associations affected by road noise create special taxing zones to collect funds to build sound barriers they’ll benefit from, both with reduced noise and resulting increased home valuations.

I can think of any number of better places to spend federal tax dollars to improve mass transit than erecting sound barriers. Can’t you?

Jim Cameron of Darien is chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North/Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area and the Darien Representative Town Meeting. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at or