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Parkway may look better than it sounds to Cheval

The Turnpike District plans a tree buffer but not additional sound barriers.

By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

LUTZ -- More than a year after homeowners demanded talks with the state Department of Transportation over the Suncoast Parkway, Cheval homeowners will get a more pleasing view of the highway. But they face a tougher task resolving their biggest complaint: road noise.

The Florida Turnpike District, a division of DOT, proposes to spend around $550,000 on trees along both sides of the parkway, which divides the upscale development, turnpike spokeswoman Joanne Hurley said. But the district so far is not backing off its resistance to installing more sound barriers.

Residents say the sound and vibrations from passing vehicles not only are irritating, but also cause structural damage to their homes. And Earl Burley, one of Cheval's negotiators with the department, said the district has failed to pay enough attention to the noise issue.

The district spent $1.2-million constructing sound barriers through Cheval, said Raymond Ashe Jr., the district's acting director of planning and production. He said additional studies showed filling in the gaps would not reduce noise.

Hurley this week also repeated the district's stance that, given a choice during discussions, residents preferred more landscaping over extra sound barriers.

"Originally, we thought we had fulfilled our promise to the Cheval community when we put up the (existing) sound wall," Hurley added.

The southern end of the parkway opened in early 2001.

Current plans call for combinations of wetlands trees, such as cypress, and drier land species, such as flatwoods pine. The contract is scheduled to be bid this summer, Ashe said.

"I think it's going to look pretty good," Burley said.

Burley said that residents hired sound specialists to review the department's noise studies, using $5,000 from the Cheval Community Association and neighborhood development district. Cheval's experts found that the state's calculations on barrier height, length and materials used were flawed, he said.

Ashe said the district at this point has no intention of discussing the barrier issue again, although Burley insists that further improvements are "the right thing to do."

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-- Josh Zimmer covers Keystone, Citrus Park and the environment. He can be reached at 269-5314.

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