Noise-level tests conducted this week near the Foothill Freeway in La Canada Flintridge showed that the areas do not qualify for sound barriers, engineers from the state Department of Transportation said.
The tests were conducted at the request of residents, city officials and school administrators who assert that freeway noise has reached an intolerable level.
Noise readings taken in previous years showed basically the same results, but residents in recent months have demanded new measurements. Caltrans agreed to retest only after residents launched a petition drive and letter-writing campaign aimed at their representatives in the state Legislature.
The residents have stepped up what they say has been a 20-year battle with Caltrans because they are expecting an increase in truck traffic and noise when a proposed connection between the Foothill and Long Beach freeways is built. Caltrans officials say it will be at least another five to 10 years before the Foothill-Long Beach freeway link will be constructed.
Caltrans engineers found Monday morning that the noise levels did not exceed the federal minimum standard of 67 decibels during tests on the campus of Flintridge Preparatory School on Crown Avenue and in the driveway of a home on the 300 block of Meadow Grove Place. Readings taken in two areas at the school measured 65 and 59 decibels, and the noise reached 66 decibels at the Meadow Grove residence, said Satish Chander, a Caltrans senior transportation engineer.
Those measurements, however, are being contested by residents on the grounds that the traffic volume was unusually low Monday morning and that the damp air may have muffled some of the noise from the traffic. City Manager Don Otterman said the city will ask Caltrans to take more readings in clear weather because "clouds and moisture absorb noise."
But Chander said the decrease in traffic was minor. The weather factor, he said, didn't make a difference in the outcome of the tests. "All these readings are below the designed criteria that we have," Chander said.
Time of Tests
And the measurements were conducted at a time and in locations chosen by Otterman, a representative of Flintridge Prep and Carol Back, a homeowner who is spearheading the residents' drive for sound barriers, Chander said.
Chander said he met with the three earlier this month and that they asked that Caltrans engineers set up their equipment in the specified locations and take the tests between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Chander said Caltrans generally conducts its tests between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. because the department's studies have shown that during those hours there are more vehicles--especially freight trucks--traveling the freeways at high speeds and thus making more noise. The residents have complained that measurements taken in the past were not done in the early-morning and late-night hours when, they say, truck traffic on the Foothill Freeway is at its worst.
"We told them, 'You people give us the place and time to take the reading.' They wanted us to come in the morning," Chander said.
Residents and city officials are also contending that one or two decibels may have been lost in a test made at the school because one microphone was set up a long distance from the recording equipment inside a Caltrans truck. The decibels may have been lost as the sound traveled about 180 feet through a cable stretched across the school campus, a school official said.
Chander dismissed any loss in decibels caused by the length of the cable as "insignificant." He said any further requests for tests in the area will have to be analyzed. "I won't say either way whether we're going to come again or not," Chander said.
La Canada Flintridge residents say they will continue pressuring their representatives, Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale) and State Sen. Newton R. Russell (R-Glendale), to get some action from Caltrans.
A field aide from Russell's office who was present when the sound tests were made Monday said he will go through a "huge" file of material on the issue that dates back at least 14 years and will then discuss the matter with the senator.
1,100 Sign Petition
The aide, Charles Jelloian, said that he was given petitions signed by 1,100 residents and that he would have to talk with Caltrans and "find out what they are planning to do." La Canada Flintridge, Jelloian said, has "a legitimate problem. This office recognizes that."
Besides the officials at Flintridge Prep, school administrators and teachers at St. Francis High School on Foothill Boulevard are also demanding that sound barriers be constructed. At both schools Caltrans has installed air conditioning and heating units and triple-thick windows and doors in classrooms where noise from traffic made it impossible to be heard.
But the administrators and teachers at the schools say those measures have, in effect, sealed students and teachers in the classrooms and caused the schools' energy bills to increase. And they said noise outside the classrooms has not abated.
"You can't even hear a person knocking on the door," Chris Valente, a part-time teacher at St. Francis, said about teaching in one of the affected classrooms. "There's no way we can open the door for a minute without hearing the noise."
Classrooms at St. Francis were soundproofed soon after the part of the Foothill Freeway that passes through La Canada Flintridge was completed in 1974. But the priests who teach at the school also live on the campus and say they can't sleep at night because the building they live in "shakes" from vibrations caused by trucks rumbling along the freeway, Valente said.
The school joined the demand for noise relief two weeks ago when more than 50 signatures "of every teacher, administrator and custodian" were collected on a petition that was passed along to Carol Back, Valente said. The next step, he said, is to contact Nolan and Russell.
"They say we don't qualify and we know darn well we do," Valente said of Caltrans. "They're playing games. This baloney has got to stop."