Road rattles an urban Eden
By LISA GREENE
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001
PINELLAS PARK -- Not so long ago, the Singletons enjoyed a quiet house open to the breeze, nestled in front of a pond teeming with fish and across the street from a pretty stand of trees.
That was before the road work began.
The Singletons live in the Autumn Run subdivision on Elmhurst Drive, just south of where Pinellas County is extending Bryan Dairy Road from 66th Street to connect with U.S. 19. It promises easier travel for thousands of county residents but has ripped a hole in the Singletons' piece of urban paradise. The trees are gone, the pond is lower, and the windows are closed to shut out the noise.
And it's about to get worse.
In January, road workers made an unhappy discovery: an old dump of construction debris -- wood, concrete, tires and even cars -- buried about 6 feet down on the north side of the roadway.
The debris poses a problem because the county can't simply build over it. It would crumple under the road's weight and make the pavement sink and crack. But removing the debris would be expensive.
So Pinellas County plans a cheaper solution that it has never tried before.
Engineers call it "deep dynamic compaction."
What it means: Workers will use a crane to hoist up a 20-ton weight attached to a chain. Then they will drop it. Again and again.
For the Singletons, it was not good news.
"We already closed the house (windows) up because of the noise -- "beep, beep, beep,"' Dennis Singleton said Wednesday as construction equipment beep, beep, beeped from behind the houses on the north side of the street.
The lily pad-studded pond behind Singleton's house has dropped about 2 feet, and he thinks that drainage work for the road project is responsible. This winter, dozens of fish died, and Singleton blames the shallower, colder water.
Around the corner, Daisy Hayden said she works nights, and the road project often awakens her at 6:30 a.m.
"I can't believe they are going to do that," she said. "They don't care about the neighbors here."
Commissioners approved the plan Tuesday night after project consultants told them that removing some debris, then compacting the rest, would cost $1.4-million, while removing all the debris, without compacting, would cost $2.6-million.
The consultants said the noise will be about the same as pile-driving on a nearby overpass they've already worked on. And vibration from the impact should be muted for the houses south of the roadway because Cross Bayou Canal lies between the two, they said.
"It's a muffled sound when it drops," said consultant Larry Moore, vice president of Professional Service Industries. "The loudest sound is when is the crane lifts it up in the air."
Neighbors weren't reassured.
"We've felt vibrations just when they're driving heavy equipment," Singleton said. "When they did the overpass, it was terrible: "ka-bang, ka-bang."'
"Do you hear the noise now?" Hayden asked. "The other day, it was, "boom, boom.' "
Keith Wicks, county public works director, said he understands neighbors' skepticism. He told commissioners that project leaders plan to meet with neighbors to ease their concerns.
"We'll even invite them out to watch it," he said.
The area the county plans to compact is about 600 feet long and 85 feet wide. Wicks estimated it's several hundred feet from the nearest houses.
After compacting it, workers would put down a heavy synthetic fabric to reinforce the soil. The work should take a month to six weeks.
From an engineering point of view, it would be better to remove the debris because the road is more likely to sink a bit if it's compacted. But that should be a matter of inches over several years and wouldn't cost much to repair, said consultant John DeBellis, a vice president with Reynolds Smith and Hills, Inc.
The state Department of Transportation's Turnpike District used the technique while building the Suncoast Parkway with good results, Wicks said.
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