Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's that noise?

When John from the Ravenna neighborhood e-mails me at 2 a.m. saying pavement grinding work on I-5 in Seattle sounds like “airplanes landing in [his] neighbor’s backyard,” I decide to check out the noise myself. I don’t see any crash-landing Boeing jets, but it sure does sound like it.

To get a good idea of how loud it is, listen to this video with your headphones on. I shot this video at midnight 200 feet from I-5 near John’s house at NE 72nd Street.

Pavement grinding is that loud.

No question about it, grinding down 40 years worth of battered, rutted concrete is noisy. However every night our grinders are out there making noise, our highway is getting safer for drivers. The stacked, circular, diamond blades create a textured, corduroy pattern that improves traction for drivers and helps keep standing water off the road, preventing collisions.

During the past few months folks like John have put up with a lot of construction noise on I-5.

The noise started back in February with screeching concrete saws ripping out crumbling concrete panels in the snow (photo, right).

In the springtime residents endured pavement grinders grinding out rutted concrete 24 hours a day all weekend long.

Neighbors enjoyed a reprieve in early summer while crews working for WSDOT shifted their schedule to finish another WSDOT pavement grinding job in the eastern part of the state.

From the sound of things, the crews are back in town. We are grinding down portions of I-5 in both directions from just south of the Ship Canal Bridge to NE 145th Street in Shoreline. We're running at least three grinding machines at the same time to complete the project as fast as possible. Depending on where you live we will finish up the grinding by the fall, a month or so later than we had earlier thought.

Most of the folks I’ve chatted with about the project understand the work needs to get done. They want to know when we will be working near their home and what they can do to block out the loud noise robbing them of sleep at night.

I-5 neighbors can check the site to see where grinders will be working that week. It takes one of our grinders about 10 minutes to grind 60 feet of concrete four feet wide*. The average property lot along I-5 is between 50 and 60 feet wide. This means that if the grinders are working directly near your home, you will hear the noise ramp up and then ease off over a period of about an hour as the grinders move down the highway and away from your area.

I empathize with neighbors and will personally mail free earplugs to anyone who requests them. These earplugs are the same type of ear protection our pavement grinding crews use so there is a good chance they will block out more noise than average earplugs you may find at the corner store.

Finally, I want to thank all those living along the freeway for your patience and understanding while we smooth out nearly 20 miles of wheel ruts, cracks and uneven pavement.

When the work is finished everyone who drives this stretch of road will breathe a sigh of relief from a smoother ride, improved traction and a safer highway.

*Each lane is 12 feet wide, we will grind across all lanes of I-5. The 12-foot lanes require crews to make several passes in order to grind the whole width of each lane. The process is similar to mowing a lawn row after row, only this “lawn” is 72 feet wide and six miles long – in both directions.


Mark said...

I was trying to find some information on the 15 being ripped apart in my backyard in San Diego, only to find this entry. To be honest it made both my wife and I laugh...I guess fixing the 15 is a mess everywhere it runs. At least the jet engine noise only lasts a couple of nights for you guys, they were blowing up an overpass the other about a lot of noise!

Anonymous said...

Question about diamond grinding, is there a specific depth these machines grind down to or will they grind until the rutted areas are smooth? I ask this because I've noticed areas on SB I-5 near 145th where the diamond grinder has passed by but patches of the rutted areas still exist. Will I need to anticipate the return of the grinders to this area?

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to read this! So it's not the black helicopters coming to take us away after all! Whew!

Broch Bender said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Broch Bender said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for your question.

We plan to grind between one-fourth of an inch and one-half of an inch on southbound I-5 near NE 145th Street. Last spring crews ground the right lane in this area. Later this summer we will return to finish grinding the remaining three lanes.

I-5 is one big grid of concrete panels. The amount of concrete we’re shaving off of each panel varies depending on how rutted the area is. Most of the panels are getting “buzzed” between a quarter-inch and an inch off the top.

August 10, 2009 10:56:00 AM PDT

Liisa Mannery said...

Hearing you loud and clear on top of Phinney Ridge, near the zoo. Well, the mystery is solved.

Anonymous said...

Just before northbound I-5 merges with the express lanes at Northgate, there are signs warning motorcycles of the grooves in the roadway caused by the pavement grinding. I think the signs should warn all vehicles. The left most lane in particular immediately before the express lanes merge has uneven grooves (as if the grinding wheel lost some of its teeth) and the grooves meander from side to side a bit. There is also a half inch high edge in the right third of the lane where the grinding was not completed on this segment of the lane.

All of these deficiencies in the grinding process in this lane combine to make for one very wild ride while trying to maintain proper lane control. I have three different vehicles of varying size, wheel base/track, and tire size and all of them get thrown from side to side at this point in my commute. I wonder what this will be like when the surface is more slippery from water or ice.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a difference! The grinding was evidently completed on the segment of roadway that I described previously. It is actually a joy now to drive in the left most lane approaching Northgate on northbound I-5. Thank you to everyone involved in improving this roadway until it can be replaced. And my sympathy goes out to the neighborhoods that have to endure the nighttime noise caused by these machines.

As long as my wishes are being granted so seemingly easily (OK, I now realize it was planned to complete the grinding on the Northgate segment), all we have to do now is get studded tires banned in western Washington at least. I have been doing shift work at a hospital year round for twenty years and I have never failed to make it to work on front wheel drive with standard M+S tires with chains as back-up on very rare occasions. Studded tires ruin our roads at great expense with little benefit. The ruts on the segment of I-90 that passes through Spokane are ridiculously dangerous but that should be their choice, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last post, lets get rid of studded tires. This however should be done statewide, and we should stop people from entering the state if they have studs on as well. Just banning them from being sold in the state does not go far enough. The damage to I-90 in Spokane was not only done by Washington residents, but the large number of commuters from Idaho. The worst of I-90 ruts have been fixed this summer as best they could be; let’s not waste all that money by letting studs eat up the new asphalt and newly ground concrete.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for letting us know what the noise was - we live about 5 blocks from I-5 at northgate. We came up with "a helicopter hovering constanlty for 5 hours maybe?" but knew that made no sense. I-5 construction was the only real answer - it is good to have it confirmed so that we don't fear the great black helicopter from the sky (as another poster commented)! Thanks for keeping us in the loop.
-Northgate Neighbors

Anonymous said...

I've been hearing this from time to time, figured it was helicopters. Going strong now at 2:20 a.m. and we're at 3rd and Northwest 77th! It's pretty loud this far away.

John said...

OK, nice to see the humor in your reports, but its pretty loud. I live three houses East of I5 right by the Lake City Way exit and the grinding has occurred for two consecutive nights, pretty much all night long. There was a brief pause around 3:00AM last night for an hour. Its unbelievable that this type of noise is allowable at night for that long of a duration.

Every window is shut and the noise drowns out a very loud television.

Anonymous said...

this is a nice idea and to quiet the ride down but it to me isn't safe since the grinding lines ar parallel with the driving surface wich means u slide eazyer how do i know i locked my brakes on a sectiion that was ground like the story mentioned and slid very well un till i got to a unground section so people i would not advise these so call engeneers to hold your next ride safe they need to grind at horizontal to the driving surface or diagonal criscross pattern and most tires will follow the groove that are ground in which makes it some times dam nerveracking to have to really grab the wheel to stop from crashing let me know what u think

Broch Bender said...

Hi John,
We do have a noise permit to do the work. The permit allows crews to do pavement grinding at night for up to 100 nights. We realize it is noisy, but the work has to be done to fix the failing pavement. The area of I-5 near where you live is one of the roughest sections of pavement, and it requires more work than other areas.

We looked at ways to reduce construction-related noise. We considered placing shields around the grinders to soften the noise, but because pavement grinding crews move about 6-10 feet each minute it was impractical to keep setting and moving the shields. We also looked at attaching noise-deadening material to the grinding machines, but because of the high amount of friction generated it would create a fire hazard. Crews even tried using a mobile noise shield but found it didn’t measurably reduce the noise.

Crews will do their best to get in, grind and get out as quickly as possible. We apologize for any late-night noise and please let us know if you would like us to send you a free pair of construction-grade earplugs to help lessen the affects of our critical freeway improvement work.

Our crews will be off the highway this weekend, Friday night through Tuesday morning. Next week we'll be grinding on northbound I-5 from NE 92nd Street to NE 150th Street in Shoreline. Please see the I-5 construction schedule for more details:

SeattleAlan said...

That has got to be the noise I'm hearing over on Latona, just off 50th St. Sounds like the Goodyear Blimp is hovering right outside our bedroom window throughout the night. We'll be happy when it is done. And we'll be happy to have a smoother I-5, too.

Anonymous said...

Yay - just got woken up at 3am again. When will this be done? Maybe we could just retire roads when they reach this condition and then everyone could take the train? Oh, wait - there are no freakin trains.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the I-5 pavement-grinding project, there is NO excuse for why the schedule for the I-5 pavement-grinding on the following webpage isn't being updated more frequently than it is:

For example, the schedule states that:

Monday, Oct. 12 - the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 13 - Crews will close up to three southbound lanes of I-5 between NE 85th Street and Ravenna Boulevard from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

That, as I can attest to since I am being kept from SLEEPING, is NOT the area currently being worked on! I live at NE 58 St, and I can tell you that the construction is CLOSER than Ravenna Blvd!

This entire project has been mismanaged from the get-go; having been extended three months beyond the original date of completion helps to illustrate this. But AT THE VERY LEAST, that website ought to be updated more frequently.

There's NO excuse good enough to justify to me or anyone else why that isn't the case.

We poor citizens, who lost out to the commuters in the government's considerations regarding this project, who work during the day and are trying to sleep at night, DESERVE to be PROPERLY notified in regards to the construction schedule: this includes updates, changes, etc. Again, to beat a dead horse to death, there is just NO excuse for why this isn't being done properly.

To WSDOT: congratulations on a sloppy job done, and furiously yours,

Angry In Seattle

Anonymous said...

Was this really necessary? The pavement seems plenty safe to me.

A bunch of seriously sleep deprived people driving around might be another matter. This constant noise is stressful and keeping everyone around here awake and grumpy.

Another reason to not salt the roads!! Or this will become a yearly deal.

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