Fighting for quiet nights

TANGLETOWN — It’s been more than a year since residents near 49th Street & Stevens Avenue first felt the rumbling of Interstate 35W construction.

Claiming there’s been no relief from the day-and-night noise of machinery, beeping tucks, slamming tailgates and other disturbances, residents are pushing harder than ever to bring some quiet to their neighborhood, and City Council Member Scott Benson (11th Ward) is backing the drive.

"I don’t see why our city departments are ignoring literally the pain and agony our citizens are experiencing," Benson said.  

The council member planned to meet with affected residents Jan. 7 to discuss solutions to the ongoing problem. His proposal: Let residents share their concerns at a City Council Transportation and Public Works Committee meeting. City staff would be there to explain their efforts to resolve the issues and MnDOT would be expected to submit a detailed construction schedule and reasoning for the work in question, Benson said.

His hope is that a resolution asking MnDOT to curtail its nighttime activities would eventually make it to the full City Council for a vote and serve as a long-term solution to noise issues as the project continues during the next two years.  

MnDOT initially went along with a state agreement to apply for special city permits for night construction, but eventually opted out of the process when Minneapolis rules conflicted with the Crosstown project’s schedule. MnDOT doesn’t have to abide by the city’s permitting process because it is a higher entity, said Burt Osborne, director of Operations, Licenses & Environmental Sevices for Minneapolis. That makes mitigating disturbances difficult, since any MnDOT compliance with Minneapolis’ nighttime regulations is basically a courtesy, he said.

"I feel terrible for the residents around there," Osborne said. "I wish we could do something to give them some kind of assurance that we care about this and can affect it, but unless MnDOT comes back to the table and agrees to do things part their way and part our way… I think both parties cannot view this as an all or nothing proposition."

Steve Barrett, resident engineer for MnDOT, said the agency agreed early last summer not to do some of the loudest work — pile driving — at night. MnDOT also instructed workers for contractor Ames/Luna/Shafer to turn down or change the frequency of truck-reverse beepers and told drivers to be more cautious of slamming tailgates.

Barret said the same crew of truck drivers works the site each night, as well as the same bulldozer operator, and they all know to be as quiet as possible.

"There’s no question you do feel some vibrations," said Barret, who recently stood in the home of a concerned resident who lives right on the corner of 49th & Stevens. "But I would say it’s akin to what you’d feel if a big truck was right outside your door."

Tim Hodapp, who lives in the house, finds the noise much more disturbing.

"It’s the persistent rumbling that’s most difficult," Hodapp said. "Because you can’t sleep when your bed is rumbling."

Hodapp said the plaster walls above his mantle have cracked because of the vibrations — damage he can be compensated for, but only after a lengthy application process.    

A few houses down on Stevens, longtime resident Don Larson’s kitchen ceiling has started to cave in. He also pointed to a large crack on the outside of his home as well as several others inside. Because Larson’s home was not considered to be in a zone affected by pile driving and it was not inspected prior to the start of construction, the legwork needed to be reimbursed for damages is significant, he said.  

Tony Proell, who lives three houses up from Stevens, said his house has sustained damage, too, but that’s not the worst part of construction. He said his wall hangings shake, his dog barks and his young son gets scared.

"The noise I can drown out with the TV, but the shaking and rumbling of the house is the worst to me," Proell said.

Area residents said they are also concerned about the ability of emergency vehicles to get down Stevens, which has been significantly narrowed because of roadwork. Recycling and garbage crews have been making the rounds on foot to Stevens houses because their tucks are too large to get down the street, residents said. But their main goal is to end nighttime construction — not the entire project — through working with Benson.

"Progress is progress," Hodapp said. "There is no one I know of in our neighborhood that has said this project should go to hell."

Osborne said he suggested MnDOT work only four nights a week to give residents an occasional break, but the agency said that wouldn’t work.  

Benson is hopeful the city, residents and MnDOT can find some middle ground and still get the project done.

"It would be nice to have some solution to this," he said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.