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Curbing noise pollution

Staff Reports

The stretch of Interstate 70 from mile marker 172-182 has always been a part of Vail police’s jurisdiction. But up until the last couple weeks, the town council had made it clear that town police officers were to focus on town streets, not the interstate. That policy has changed.In an effort to stifle the roar emitted from highway traffic, town council has increased police funding, allowing officers to now patrol I-70 for drivers exceeding the 65 mph speed limit.”We are addressing noise and speed and use of Jake breaks,” councilman Dick Cleveland said. “The goal is to slow traffic down. When you see a cop don’t you slow down?”The increased police presence is to get people habituated to driving the speed limit on I-70 through the town of Vail, Cleveland said especially semi trucks. Cleveland quotes a Colorado Department of Transportation study that indicates that one semi makes the noise of 33 passenger vehicles.”If we can slow them down,” he said, “That’s a big start.”To make interstate travelers feel a bit more positive about the increased presence, Vail Public Information Officer Suzanne Silverthorn has devised an unorthodox strategy to ease drivers into the first phase of patrols. Those who are pulled over for speeding within the first three months will receive a warning with the exception of “egregious” offenders and an entry into a drawing to win a session in a 600-horsepower NASCAR-style racer. The session is valued at about $400 quite an interesting way to deal with speeding offenders.”I think it is a little odd,” Cleveland said. The idea is something that the council hasn’t discussed much. “It’s something we may need to talk about.”For the men and women behind the red and blue flashing lights, the desire to have police presence on I-70 has been a point of contention between Vail Police and the town and now they seem relieved to be able to patrol the most deadly road within town limits.”It has been an ongoing discussion on whether or not to patrol I-70,” Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said. “From my perspective it is about safety and to reduce accidents on I-70.”Henninger and his staff have always been ready and willing to they didn’t have the resources to patrol I-70, but were still being called upon to deal with frequent accidents occurring on the interstate.”I agree with the policy decision. Most of the accidents on I-70 are caused by excessive speed,” Henninger said.Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler said that the choice to have Vail police on I-70 is a combination of safety and noise. When he started as town manager six months ago, the noise conversation was front and center, but as the council began talking more, safety became a factor as well.”A component of the noise is speed, and if you can bring speed levels down you can bring the noise down,” Zemler said. “But it is just as much a safety issue as noise issue.”Safety is Henninger’s concern, but he also understands the town’s sentiment that the noise is no longer acceptable. Aside from speed, Henninger’s staff will also ensure the observance of the town’s noise ordinance and muffler law.”I don’t know if the reduction of speed will reduce the noise,” Henninger said. “We will also be enforcing Vail’s noise ordinance. If a car emits more than 90 decibels when measured 25 feet away, that vehicle is in violation of the town’s noise ordinance.”Officers will use sound meters to determine whether or not vehicles are in violation. Cops have used the sound meters before when measuring bar noise in Vail Village, usually after a complaint has been issued. Vail police officers are spending 21 hours a week searching out speed scofflaws and noise violators. Their goal is not to write tickets, but to slow people down.”We want to change people’s behavior more than write tickets,” Henninger said. “I’m a realist. I don’t think that will happen.”If warnings aren’t enough to take the pedal from the metal, offenders who are written tickets will go to the municipal court, and the money paid for the ticket will go into the town’s general fund.With the additional funding the council has allotted, Zemler said, police enforcement within the actual town streets and locations will not suffer. For Vail residents, most whom own homes near the highway, the council’s decision to allow Vail police on the interstate appears to be a win-win situation.”It is in within town boundaries, so they have the right to do that. We live in a unique situation where the freeway comes through town, they are just enforcing the law that already exists,” said Steven Edwards, local of 14 years and homeowner of Red Sandstone in West Vail for six years. “There is plenty of police force in Vail for what we have going on there. I don’t see patrolling I-70 affecting that at all. I think that it will help noise more so with the trucks than the cars. If the trucks are going slower they will produce less noise. With people going slower it will be safer.”Quieter highwayColorado Department of Transportation studies indicate that there is a direct correlation between speed and noise. According to a state environmental study on the Interstate 25 corridor through Colorado Springs, resulting noise levels is exasperated with higher speeds. The study found that a car running at 38 mph creates sound pressure level at 95 dBA, while the same vehicle running at 55 mph creates a sound pressure of 100 dBA. So a 17 mph difference creates a 5 dBA difference in sound, which is significant for Vail homeowners proximate to the interstate, especially if that homeowner is outside on his or her deck. By that reasoning, if the average I-70 traveler is driving 80 mph, or 15 mph above the speed limit, mitigating speed should make a difference in noise.”For every 10 mph you can decrease the speed, you can reduce the sound by 2-3 dBV,” Zemler said.According to Director of Public Works and Transportation Greg Hall, that 3 decibel number is significant. When you make a change in noise by at least 3 decibels it is easily detected by the human ear. Hall believes if town of Vail can get drivers back down to 65 or below, noise will follow suit.&quotSpeed comes down your noise should come down,&quot Hall said. &quotThere is a relationship there. How much the noise comes down depends on the speed.&quotHall will be conducting a series of scientific tests to find out if the presence of Vail officers on I-70 is reducing speed and in result reducing noise. Volume of traffic, speed, percentage of trucks versus cars, topography are just some of the factors involved in determining whether or not the investment of having officers on the interstate is worthy.&quotWe will also be testing people’s perception of that investment. Asking if it has made a difference,&quot Hall said. &quotPeople driving the speed limit has more benefits than just noise,&quot Hall added. &quotIt’s a lot safer.&quotIn addition to this speed enforcement effort, town officials have recently authorized a $90,000 consulting contract with Hankard Environmental of Fort Collins to monitor noise levels on the interstate and develop a noise mitigation plan for the highway.By Cassie Pence


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