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Noise unsettles parkway neighbors

Silverthorn residents ask the Turnpike District to build a wall to buffer them from the sound of traffic. Options will be discussed at a meeting March 21.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001


SPRING HILL -- No one had to tell Darline Dupuis when the Suncoast Parkway opened to traffic.

"I got woke up," recalled Dupuis, whose villa on the eastern edge of the Silverthorn subdivision backs the new expressway. "I thought an 18-wheeler was coming through the bedroom wall."

It isn't that Dupuis was unaware that the highway was coming. But she and her neighbors on Legend Hills Lane expected the state Turnpike District to do more to buffer their homes from the $507-million toll road than put up a screened chain-link fence and plant a handful of tiny trees.

After a month of needing to close windows just to hear the television, the families have asked the state for some relief.

"We're hoping to get at least a 12-foot concrete wall built," said Art Kemble, whose home also fronts the parkway. "I think a concrete wall is the only thing that will keep the noise down."

Cheval in northern Hillsborough County got a wall, Dupuis said of the the only other large-scale community that touches the road. "If they could give it to them, why couldn't they give it to our subdivision as well?"

But Silverthorn, south of State Road 50 and north of Powell Road, does not qualify for a barrier wall, said Kevin Thibault, production director for the Turnpike District. A study about five years ago showed that erecting such a wall for the golf course community, which has about 90 homesites in close proximity to the road, would not be feasible or reasonable, Thibault said.

A mile of wall costs about $1-million.

"We presented that information to them several years ago," he said. "Obviously, at the time we dealt with the developer. They understood that."

A wall wouldn't completely eliminate all noise, Thibault added. Some Cheval residents have complained to the district, too, because they can hear parkway traffic from their homes.

Some want the wall to rise higher. Others just want information on why the moans and screeches of traffic are invading their homes. Homeowners who do not know each other have begun seeking each other out for support in the effort.

"This was our retirement home," said Clifford Eck, 68, of Cheval. "We moved out away from Tampa out here . . . and bought as nice a home as we could possibly afford, and now it's destroyed by noise." A conservation area stands between the parkway and Eck's now-unused patio.

"We have already talked to a realtor who has told us, and will go on record as saying, that any home on Chemille Drive is now substantially downgraded because of noise."

Silverthorn residents' hopes rest on a wall

Thibault said the people in Cheval might have expected too much.

"They were expecting the wall to be a catch-all," Thibault said. "Never, ever in our presentations did we promise it would do that. The wall just decreases noise by five decibels at minimum."

Any respite would be welcome at Silverthorn, said Bob Mackey, the homeowner's association board member who is spearheading the drive for relief.

"The biggest problem is at night, when things get still, and early in the morning, when you don't have the local noises so you can just hear the trucks and cars," Mackey said as he drove through the affected neighborhood last week.

He pointed to places where the parkway rises above the houses, and where the red cedars, pines and live oaks stand barely 4 feet high.

"You can see how sparse the plantings are. Even though they're well intentioned, they're just not going to do the job," Mackey said. "It will take 10 to 15 years at best. We've got a problem now. And the road will just keep getting worse as they keep opening sections and the population grows."

This summer, the state plans to open another 10 miles of the road, from State Road 50 to U.S. 98 in northern Hernando County. Plans also are under way to extend the Suncoast Parkway into Citrus County.

"We don't have hardly any privacy, the noise factor is extremely bad, and security isn't so great," said Kemble, who moved from St. Petersburg to Silverthorn a year ago specifically to enjoy the outdoors he now seeks to escape because of the loudness.

"My wife is having a fit. We're trying to see what we can get done. I hope the Department of Transportation will be as concerned as we are about it."

Several representatives from the DOT Turnpike District plan to attend a meeting with the Silverthorn residents at 7 p.m. March 21 to discuss the issue.

"We'll go listen to the concerns of the residents and talk about what the Turnpike (District) can do and what they can't do," spokeswoman Joanne Hurley said.

Considering other options -- and enduring the noise

Although a wall appears unlikely, Thibault said, other possibilities exist.

"We've committed to them that if we need to go back out there and re-evaluate the landscaping . . . we'll be more than willing to do that," he said. "It's a tough thing for people to understand. They were used to living in an area that had pre-Suncoast noise. . . . Unfortunately, our hands are somewhat tied because we have criteria to follow."

One big worry Thibault has is that Silverthorn developers may have misrepresented the barrier plans to buyers.

"I hope (buyers) weren't told anything other than what we told the developer," he said. "We'll find that out at the meeting."

Before the state bigwigs make a decision, Dupuis said, they should be sure they understand how bad the noise can get.

"They can come spend the night at my place," she said. "Let them try to sleep through that going-to-work traffic. . . . It's just a little too close for comfort."

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