Bill addresses highway noise woes Compensation sought for dwellers


So far, the only noise coming from the likely site of state Route 100 in southern Ellicott City is the trickling of the Deep Run.

But when the six-lane highway does become reality, the area's state senator wants to make sure homeowners -- even those in nearby top-floor condominiums -- are shielded from the noise of passing cars and trucks or paid for their trouble.

It is largely because of the Deep Run and its wetlands that federal regulators have looked favorably upon an alignment for the highway that would put it about 100 feet from condominiums in the Villages of Montgomery Run off Route 108.

That alignment, dubbed the "Lazy S," and another likely alternative -- which would require bulldozing two houses on the other side of the stream in Hunt Country Estates -- have turned the stream into a political battle line.

Residents on either side have voiced opposite views on the choice of alignments and noise legislation proposed by their state senator, Thomas M. Yeager, D-13.

"The Route 100 alignments have just had a very sorry history," Mr. Yeager said. "We've gotten to the point where two groups of people are pitted against each other, through no doing of their own."

The bill would require the State Highway Administration to buy any properties within a 65-decibel noise area created by a new highway project.

Mr. Yeager said that although Route 100 was the impetus for the bill, it would apply statewide.

An identical bill was introduced in the House of Delegates by Del. Martin G. Madden, but Mr. Madden withdrew his legislation Thursday.

He cited several reasons for withdrawing the bill, including a "completely inaccurate" financial impact analysis done by legislative staff and concern raised by the Sierra Club that the bill would make it cheaper for SHA to use an alignment more harmful to the environment.

Mr. Madden said he also wanted to see what happened to the Senate bill before requiring people to return to Annapolis to testify on a House version.

The legislation has not yet been scheduled for a vote by the Finance Committee.

Lori Lease, of Hunt Country Estates, was one of the people who testified against the bill during its March 3 hearing before the Senate Finance Committee hearing.

She and other opponents believe that the bill was intended to "drive up the cost of the 'Lazy S,' which the regulatory agencies seem to be in favor of."

But Mr. Yeager said that is not the bill's intent, and opponents are overstating the cost of the legislation.

"When the state buys a home [because of noise], they don't run a bulldozer through it; they resell it," he said.

On the other side of the stream, Kim Abramson, Route 100 Task Force coordinator for Montgomery Run's 588 units, testified in favor of the bill.

"If Route 100 is shifted to the south, 144 homes will be placed above the 67 decibel maximum acceptable noise levels determined by the SHA, and the FHA/VA," which help finance many condominium purchases, she said.

According to SHA officials, many of those units cannot be helped with sound mitigation measures such as walls, because they are above the first floor.

But Mr. Yeager said that even without the bill's passage, Route 100 neighbors' noise problems may be dealt with anyway.

The State Highway Administration, which presented testimony against the bill, submitted a position paper saying it has "agreed in principle" to work with the county government on a program to deal with highway noise.

Instead of buying the affected homes, the program would either:

* Construct a sound barrier;

* Guarantee the sale of an affected home at a price not reduced by the proximity of the new highway;

* Or purchase a "noise easement," equal to the reduction in property value, from the property owners.

Ms. Abramson said Montgomery Run owners would have to learn more about the program before deciding whether it would be an adequate substitute for Mr. Yeager's proposed law.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker also cautioned that while the county and state have agreed to do something about Route 100 noise, "there's been no discussion of cost or what percentage [the county and state will pay] or anything like that."

Mr. Ecker said he still favors the Route 100 alignment agreed upon by elected officials back in 1987.

That would have put the highway between the two communities, but in some places, right on top of Deep Run. Relocating the stream proved unacceptable to federal regulators because it would displace sensitive wetlands, so the SHA said it was forced to look for other alignments.

Chris Flanick, a two-year Montgomery Run resident whose condominium will face the highway, was not reassured by Mr. Yeager's proposed law.

"We haven't owned it long, so a buyout wouldn't be helpful," he said. "If I wanted to sell, I wouldn't cover my settlement costs -- I've figured it out. We figure we stand to lose a couple thousand."

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