It was meant to keep noise out, but instead some residents say it's keeping them in.
"It's like living in an institution, except we don't have any bars on the windows," Salvatore Fertitta says, describing the new Beltway sound barrier in his southwest Baltimore County neighborhood. "I keep waiting for them to put up a tower with a guard."
Although some Maiden Choice residents praise the wall -- which ranges from about 18- to 20-feet high -- for reducing the traffic's roar, others say it does not block the sound as well as they expected and is horrible to look at.
7+ And such disputes are likely to spread.
$30 million project
Highway officials have begun a $30 million project to retrofit neighborhoods that predate the Beltway. That's how the Maiden Choice neighborhood received a 750-foot stretch of sound barriers. Meanwhile, officials have proposed expanding the Beltway to eight lanes, which would mean shielding more homes behind the light brown slabs of concrete.
Work on the barrier began on Regina Drive in May 1994, with the removal of dozens of trees and bushes.
Charlie Adams, director of environmental design with the State Highway Administration, says meetings were held with residents six years ago, during a planning study on Beltway expansion.
"We ended up redesigning the sound barrier project to move them out further so when the widening was done it could be done so without moving the barrier," he says. "We were asked by the property owners on the first block to delete that part of the barrier because they said the noise was not bad there and because they didn't want to have to look at it."
Charles Mengele, who has lived on Regina for 30 years, says the barriers were a long time coming.
"When I first moved here [the Beltway] was only two lanes and now it's three," he said. "The noise was so bad you couldn't hold
a conversation in your front yard."
The whoosh of traffic
Now that the wall is up, the constant whooshing of traffic past his three-bedroom townhouse is still louder than Mr. Mengele expected. And he added, "I miss being able to look out and see what's happening with the traffic. I used to watch to see if there were any tie-ups."
The barrier sits across the street from the front yard of Barbara Galliard's rowhouse.
"I think living in a rowhouse, you don't have much to look at anyway," she said. "Now when I look out my window all I see is a concrete wall."
Cheryl Fertitta says she and her husband are considering selling their house because of the barrier. The noise is barely better and she misses the trees, which used to filter out the dirt from trucks.
Dust over the wall
"Now the dirt just rolls right over the wall," she said, running her finger across an inside window ledge. "If I open my windows, I have black dust in my house that I never had before."
Where the trees once stood are now slabs of dusty barrier boards, some mounted on a concrete wall punctuated with stones. Highway officials say they still are landscaping the area around the barrier, and will plant more trees.
But Donna Cameron says the wall allows her to converse with neighbors several doors from her front yard -- something she couldn't do before.
"I'm thrilled with it," said Mrs. Cameron, whose house is separated from the barrier by other houses. "Where we are, it has made a tremendous difference, especially at 5 p.m."