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State representatives from Camden and Glynn once again ask for answers from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) on the impacts of tree removal – this time on reducing noise levels.

State Representatives Jeff Jones (R-Brunswick), Don Hogan (R-Darien), Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), and State Senator William Ligon (R-Brunswick), sent a letter to GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry asking for a noise study to be complete. The purpose of the noise study would allow for funding to build noise buffers along I-95 were several neighborhoods are located.

Residents living along I-95 continued to complain of the noise since the tree removal started. According to GDOT’s last letter from Commissioner McMurry, enough trees were left along the roadway to create a barrier that would “be helpful” to reduce noise. According to GDOT, for noise buffers to be built, the roadway would have to be expanded for a noise study to be complete and further any potential noise buffering construction.

The letter from local representatives to the head of GDOT states that ” [i]t is more and more evident that the excessive tree clearing caused an unintended sound nuisance and hazard on the public. Your department previously cited a federal sound study which was conducted prior to the tree clearing. The public now believes a study needs to be performed and we agree.” 

The letter requests that GDOT ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to perform a noise study and asks for all copies of the previous sound study be submitted to their offices for review.

In February, after much citizen pressure, GDOT released a proposed beautification plan only for Exit 1. GDOT was asked by AllOnGeorgia-Camden if other exits would get the same attention as Exit 1, but GDOT has not responded. Most of the clearing along I-95 is slated to be just Camden and Glynn counties.

The following below is the cost for the entire clearing projects for I-95 and I-16:

  • $4.5 million for Interstate vegetation management contracts. 
  • $6 million for Hurricane Matthew cleanup contracts. 
  • Preliminary phase of the landscape/beautification projects: The amount to be determined.  

The letter below to Commissioner of GDOT, Russell McMurry

Picture – Letter sent to GDOT Commissioner from Representatives Jeff Jones, Don Hogan, Jason Spencer, and State Senator William Ligon
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  1. I’ve complained via emails numerous times to GDOT. So I wanted to share this lengthy email and it contradicts what GDOT told our representatives about the trees and noise.
    Ms. Boykin,
    Thank you for contacting our office regarding vegetation removal between your subdivision and I-95 between Exit 1 and Exit 3 in Kingsland, Georgia. I have spoken with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Noise Specialist and have some additional information to provide.

    This section of I-95 was widened almost 20 years ago. At that time, a noise analysis was performed and a sound barrier was not warranted at this location. In accordance with GDOT’s Noise Policy (approved by the Federal Highway Administration), GDOT does not provide noise walls on existing roadways. A construction project would have to be programmed in order to re-evaluate noise impacts in your area and provide noise abatement (such as a noise wall). There is not currently another project programmed on I-95 in this area.

    We certainly understand your concerns about the removal of trees, and I am forwarding some additional information about the effect of vegetation and trees on traffic noise levels:

    In short, GDOT does not consider the removal of trees from roadside right-of-way to be of a project type that would qualify for an in-depth noise analysis, as the alteration or removal of vegetation would not noticeably affect the existing noise environment. Neither GDOT or FHWA consider the planting of roadside vegetation or trees to be an acceptable form of traffic noise abatement, due to their inability to provide a substantial noise reduction under circumstances typical for most roadway projects.

    Please refer to the following excerpts from FHWA guidance & GDOT policy regarding vegetation/trees and their effect on traffic noise levels:

    · Taken from FHWA’s Analysis and Abatement Guidance – Appendix C: Highway Traffic Noise Abatement Measures (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/noise/regulations_and_guidance/analysis_and_abatement_guidance/polguide05.cfm)

    Visual Screening


    Vegetation, if it is high enough, wide enough, and dense enough and opaque may reduce highway traffic noise. A 200-foot width of dense vegetation can reduce noise by 10 decibels. It is usually impossible, however, to plant enough vegetation along a road to achieve such reductions. See Figure 3.

    Roadside vegetation may create a psychological effect, if not an actual lessening of highway traffic noise levels. Since a substantial noise reduction does not occur until vegetation matures, the FHWA does not consider the planting of vegetation to be a highway traffic noise abatement measure. The planting of trees and shrubs provides psychological benefits and by providing visual screening, privacy, or aesthetic treatment, but not highway traffic noise abatement.

    Figure 3: Vegetation

    This figure shows two pictures of vegetation and noise reduction. The first figure illustrates a 200 foot area of dense vegetation from understory to the top of the trees between the highway and a residence . With this type of vegetation, noise levels can potentially be reduced by 10 dBA. The second picture illustrates a single row of planted trees between the highway and a residence. In this situation there may be a psychological effect, but there is no noise reduction.

    · Taken from Federal Highway Administration’s Highway Traffic Noise Frequently Asked Questions (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/Environment/noise/regulations_and_guidance/faq_nois.cfm)
    G6.Does vegetation reduce noise levels?
    States may not use vegetation for noise abatement, for projects subject to the provisions of 23 CFR 772. The FHWA takes this approach because studies have shown that vegetation must be a minimum of 100 feet thick, a minimum of 20 feet high and sufficiently dense (100% opacity) to provide a 5dBA noise reduction. However, vegetation may serve as a good visual screen for locations where abatement is not feasible or reasonable. States may use Federal-aid funds for vegetation near barriers or for landscaping near roadsides for aesthetic and visual purposes, but landscaping is not noise abatement.

    · Below is an excerpt from GDOT’s interpretation of FHWA’s policy on vegetation (highlighted), taken from the Georgia Department of Transportation Highway Noise Abatement Policy for Federal-Aid Projects (pg. 9, see attached)

    23 CFR 772 defines three project categories which are used to decide whether or not noise abatement should be considered in a formal study. Each of these project types are defined in Section 3 of this policy.
    Only Type I projects are considered for noise study and abatement. GDOT does not fund Type II projects, and noise analyses and abatement are not required for Type III projects.
    Noise studies will be prepared for all Type I projects.
    A Type I project is generally a project that constructs a new highway or alteration of an existing highway that either significantly changes the roadway alignment or increases the number of through traffic lanes. If any part of a project is classified as Type I, the entire project receives this classification. (See section 3 definitions for a complete definition of Type I projects.)
    The addition of an auxiliary lane that serves as a turn lane would classify a project as Type III, rather than as a Type I project, unless other conditions classify the project as type 1, see section 3 definitions.
    In addition, a project which exposes a receptor to traffic noise where there are no changes to the roadway is a Type I project. For example, a project that involves the cutting back of a slope that exposes a receptor to an existing highway is a Type I project. The removal of trees from roadside right-of-way is not considered a Type I project, as the alteration of vegetation would not change the noise environment.

    · Lastly , below is GDOT’s policy on vegetation as a form of noise abatement (highlighted), taken from the Georgia Department of Transportation Highway Noise Abatement Policy for Federal-Aid Projects (pg. 14, see attached)

    8.6.Evaluation of Noise Abatement Measures
    8.6.1 Abatement Measures to be Considered:
    A study of abatement alternatives will be made for each impacted receptor based on standard evaluation criteria for feasibility and reasonableness. This evaluation will typically begin with consideration of a reflective type barrier. Noise mitigation, however, is not limited to the use of barriers.
    Other acceptable traffic noise abatement measures include alterations to the horizontal or vertical alignment; traffic control measures (TCMs); acquisition of land to create a traffic noise buffer, and or noise insulation of Category D land uses. These abatement measures can be considered any time the project corridor lends itself to the meaningful consideration of noise mitigation in some form other than a barrier. If an abatement measure other than a noise wall will be considered, the project team should coordinate with GDOT and FHWA on a case by case basis prior to the submittal of the noise study.
    Although GDOT is typically not able to acquire land to create buffer zones, it is sometimes possible to relocate an impacted mobile home on its parcel outside of the noise impact zone. For example, if there is sufficient room in the parcel to create a buffer, the mobile home could be relocated farther from the noise source, outside of the noise impact zone. This approach would be made in consultation with the owner of the mobile home. The cost to relocate the mobile home must not exceed the cost effectiveness criteria in Section 8.7.2 below.
    Other abatement measures that relate to traffic management measures, alteration of alignments, and acquisition of right-of-way may be considered. The planting of vegetation or landscaping is not an acceptable noise abatement measure since only dense stands of evergreen vegetation at least 100 feet deep will reduce noise levels.
    The use of quieter pavements is also not an acceptable noise abatement measure unless and until an approved Quiet Pavement Program is approved by FHWA for Georgia.
    A reasonableness study will be performed for any noise abatement measure considered to be feasible. Each criterion for feasibility and reasonableness must be satisfied for a noise abatement measure to be considered feasible and reasonable. If GDOT determines that noise abatement is feasible and reasonable the noise abatement measure will be included in the project to mitigate noise impacts.

    Please let me know if you have any questions or if we can provide additional information. You can reach me at 404.562.3653.

    Jennifer Giersch
    Environmental Coordinator
    FHWA – GA Division


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