Some Bergen Beach residents say they may sue the city because traffic noise from the Belt Parkway has become unbearable since a bridge reconstruction project last year decimated the sound-blocking trees and brought the parkway closer to their homes.
“When our windows are open, it’s like the Belt Parkway is coming through our living room,” said Kevin Hiltunen, who lives on Bergen Avenue near Avenue X.
In 2013, the city and state completed a project that moved the parkway about 20 feet closer to Bergen Avenue because the previous location was deemed unstable after the erosion resulting for Sandy’s storm surge. To accommodate the shift, contractors also chopped down a grove of trees that had long sheltered the neighborhood from the traffic noise.
With trees gone and the parkway closer than ever, residents say the nuisance has really revved up.
“The noise is too much,” said Valentino Buono.
Last year, Hiltunen circulated a petition that garnered more than 100 neighborhood signatures asking the city to install a sound barrier. He also alerted then-Councilman Lew Fidler, state Sen. John Sampson, and then-Assemblyman Alan Maisel — all of whom wrote letters to the Department of Transportation urging the department to install sound barriers.
But earlier this month, the city told Hiltunen that it would not install a noise barrier — instead promising that the Parks Department will plant $9 million worth of saplings to create a natural sound barrier — eventually.
Hiltunen said it will take too long for the saplings to grow large enough to muffle the noise.
“I’ll be six feet under by the time those trees come to full growth,” he said.
Maisel, now a councilman, agreed that the fix falls short.
“They’d have to be pretty fast-growing trees to make a difference now,” he said.
A city spokesman said the project was planned and designed in accordance with federal and state environmental impact guidelines, and the state Department of Transportation determined that no sound barriers were warranted.
Maisel vowed to continue pushing for the barriers, and is working to set up a meeting with newly minted transportation commissioner Polly Trottenberg. But he said there are two road blocks standing in the way of getting the barrier: precedent and money.
There are no sound barriers along the parkway, and few anywhere in Brooklyn — a fact the city has cited when turning down requests for a barrier in Bergen Beach, Maisel said.
“They’re very common, but we don’t have them in Brooklyn,” he said. “However, I think if there have never been, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be.”
Maisel said the department has also expressed concern that granting a barrier to one community would open the flood gates for more requests. But Bergen Beach residents say that if they let the city get away with moving the parkway closer to their neighborhood while removing their natural sound barrier, it could put other communities at risk of similar treatment.
“What they did to us set a precedent,” Buono said. “They took the liberty of shoving a three-lane highway into our homes.”
Then there is the cost, which might exceed the $9 million the Parks Department has set aside for trees, but the Department of Transportation spokesman would not say how much such a barrier would cost.
Buono said the next step is legal action, and he has already consulted his attorney.
“He said we could possibly do some sort of class-action suit,” he Buono.
For now, Buono and neighbors are left longing for the past.
“When we moved into the neighborhood, it was quiet,” he said. “You couldn’t even hear the Belt Parkway. We want that back.”