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State sets up task force to review policy on sound barriers


Concerned that rules are not flexible enough, Maryland officials have formed a task force to review, starting tonight, the state's policy on deciding who is eligible for sound barriers that protect homes from highway traffic and construction noise.

Since 1987, the state has required exposure to 67 decibels of unwanted noise for a house to qualify for sound barriers. Also, state engi

neers must determine that the concrete barriers would abate the noise and that the cost would amount to less than $40,000 for each home.

That means some homes will get protection. But others, some equally close to the source of highway noise, will not because they did not meet the rules.

The Sound Barrier Review Panel's organizational meeting is scheduled for tonight at Department of Transportation headquarters, at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The session will be closed to the public, but all other meetings -- expected to be held twice a month until September -- will be open.

Maryland Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead approached Gov. Parris N. Glendening last month about reviewing the rules. "I think it's helpful to just review it and see if any modifications are desired and some kind of process can be looked at for hardship cases," he said, referring to homes that narrowly miss qualifying.

The panel will have 11 members -- 10 state legislators from environmental, budget, tax and appropriation committees. Mr. Winstead is the co-chair with Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Democrat who represents northwest parts of Baltimore and Baltimore County, and Del. Donald C. Fry, a Harford County Democrat.

"There's a definite need to review the policy," Ms. Hollinger said, adding that the panel will consider the use of less expensive alternatives to barriers, such as vegetation that would buffer the noise. Additionally, she said, ways could be found for communities to share the cost with the state and federal governments.

She said the $40,000 maximum expenditure for each affected house is based on a plan that is almost a decade old. But it is one of the nation's highest, with most states limiting the cost to $25,000 each.

The issue of noise barriers is of particular interest in Ms. Hollinger's district, where construction of a $50 million, two-year project to widen the Baltimore Beltway from six lanes to eight between Reisterstown Road and the Jones Falls Expressway could start by October.

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