Mike Ford was armed with his own sound level readings Monday night as he addressed the School Board regarding the current noise level affecting Wauwatosa West High School from traffic along nearby Highway 45.
The Tosa West parent is further concerned because the long-range Zoo Interchange project includes widening the highway adjacent to the school. That part of the project is estimated to be completed by 2018.
Ford, who has had previous written communication the district on the issue, did not have to work hard to convince board members and administrators that the issue is real.
Superintendent Phil Ertl noted that freeway noise in the school neighborhood is an ongoing issue and that it is particularly noticeable from West's athletic fields. It also affected this year's graduation ceremonies, a first-ever outdoor event to commemorate the school's 50th Anniversary.
"You could definitely notice the interference from the traffic noise," Ertl said.
Ertl said a meeting on the topic will be held soon. While the date and roster of attendees is yet to be determined, the meeting will include DOT and school officials who will focus on the possible use of sound barriers as part of the Zoo Interchange project.
Ford said he was glad the district is paying attention to the issue.
"You never know how people are going to react," Ford said. "They could say that this is going to cost too much. That may still be the case, but at least know that the district is concerned."
At this week's meeting, Ford noted that he borrowed a sound pressure level meter and measured sound level from both sides of the highway. He compared his readings to those listed in a DOT chart, noting that the 85-decibel readings he gathered were significantly higher than the various decibel thresholds in the DOT's own land-use summaries. Those thresholds ranged from 57 to 72.
"Those readings were taken at 6 p.m. when traffic is very thinned out," said Ford, who borrowed a sound pressure level meter.
He noted that an expert's reading would be more scientific in that it would take into account a longer time frame that captures deafening sound or quiet intervals. Still, he said, the argument to look at barriers is strong.
"The point is that the interference of the highway with the school campus does not change by the introduction of measurements. Measurements will vary greatly at different times of the day, traffic and weather conditions."
Ford said he first noticed the noise level at the school a year ago when he moved to the area. He was concerned for all students, including his son and daughter, who are going into their sophomore and senior years, respectively.
Though he lives east of Highway 45 on 95th Street, Ford notices the traffic noise when he steps outside his home.
"It's amazing that you can hear that with a westerly breeze," he said.
DOT officials said they are concerned with the noise level, but noted they need to go through a process as plans for the interchange are finalized.
Bill Mohr, project supervisor, wrote to Ford, saying the department does not typically provide barriers for active sports areas.
"However, should the coaches and players have difficulty understanding instructions during training and/or an event, the department is willing to discuss with the school district on the importance of the facilities."
DOT Spokesperson Beth Foy said the department will conduct additional noise analysis this fall and communicate with residents over the winter as part of planning.
"I know this is going to take a long time and my kids won't be in school," Ford said. "This is for future generations.
"It would be a shame if 2018 came around and nothing got done because no one tried."
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