Today’s news:

Sound barriers scheduled for Grand Central Pkwy.

The noise barrier will be funded through the Federal Transportation Efficiency Act, which has thus far allocated $1.4 million for the Fresh Meadows project. The total estimated cost is expected to be $7 million, however, and the project will not proceed without the majority of area residents affected by parkway noise and the barriers' construction approving the construction.

A rough schedule laid out by the state DOT calls for plans for retrofitting the barriers along the length of parkway to be completed by autumn 2001. Construction is expected to be completed by the fall of 2002.

Present at last Thursday's meeting were Mark Lefkoff, CB 8 area committee chairman; Robert Laravie, state DOT supervisor of landscape architecture and environmental analysis; and Douglas Barrett and Eric Seavey, noise consultants for Harris Miller Miller & Hanson, a private firm under contract by the DOT.

A sound consulting firm presented findings that showed sound level readings taken in the vicinity of the parkway revealed noise levels merited the erection of barriers.

Laravie said while the noise barriers will be noticeable, they will not be so large as to obscure the parkway entirely.

"You won't wake up and say, 'where did the Grand Central Parkway go,'" Laravie said.

The barriers, which will be between 10 and 17 feet high, will cover some 10,000 feet of the parkway, running between Kent Street and 170th Street on the north side of the parkway and 168th Street to Wicklow Place on the south.

They will consist of prefabricated cement segments, 13 to 15 feet long, and will also contain sound absorbent material made of wood chips, embedded in the barriers' walls that will face inward toward parkway traffic.

Turnout for last Thursday's public hearing inside the Moreida Auditorium of the Hillcrest Jewish Center was low, and a few of the dozen or so members present before the meeting started expressed dissatisfaction with the job done notifying the community.

The community hearing begins the fourth phase of DOT preparation plans, which calls for informing the community of the planned construction. Phase one (appropriation of funds) and phase two (acoustical analysis of existing noise conditions surrounding the parkway) have been completed, while phase three (design analysis of the barriers) is still in progress.

A noise impact study, conducted by Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc. found that in most homes up to one block away from the parkway, noise levels from the parkway were at or above the federal criteria used for justifying installation of noise barriers.

The Federal Highway Administration stipulates that significant noise impact occurs when levels during the loudest hours of the day are at or above 66 decibels.

The consultant found sound levels in most of the first row homes near the Grand Central Parkway to have noise levels between 65-75 decibels during the day - at or above the 67-decibel standard which warrants noise barrier placement.

Noise reductions are projected to be between eight and 12 decibels for residents nearest to the parkway and five to 10 decibels for residents one block away. Other factors that will affect noise reduction, consultants said, will be how high the residents' homes are above the parkway and their proximity to cross streets. The consultants said there would be less noise reduction for homes on or near cross streets.

Existing trees will be saved to the extent possible, and new greenery will be planted following construction as necessary, Laravie said.

But two residents objected to the sound barriers.

"It's not good. What purpose does it serve other than providing a graffiti surface?" said neighborhood resident Ursula Bombeck. "They should fix streets and parks with all that money instead."

Another resident, Frances Baicich, who said she has been involved with finding solutions to the parkway noise problem since 1982, said she was a proponent of using pure landscaping for noise abatement. But the DOT official said there is not enough acreage available along the Grand Central's peripherals for landscaping alone to be a viable sound proofing option.

While officials said the barriers would not be graffiti-proof, they said they could be painted over in the event they were defaced.

Lefkoff was not entirely satisfied with the hearing.

"I felt the meeting would have given us more information if they had told us more about what the barriers look like and the materials that will be used," he said.

Construction is planned between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., with none taking place during the nighttime or weekends, the community was told.

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