Neighbors, reps sound off on bridge noise

MERRIMACK – Paul “Butche” Blow has lived happily on Hillcrest Drive for 40 years, but in the past few months, he says he can’t even hear himself think.

Blow’s house neighbors Merrill’s Marauders Bridge, which carries thousands of cars across the Souhegan River on the F.E. Everett Turnpike each day. The bridge, which has long been on the state’s priority list for rehabilitation, is now at the beginning of a two-year construction plan – which has included ripping out hundreds of trees and blowing out tons of rock ledge.

Life is a lot noisier for Blow and many of his neighbors, who, on Thursday, joined town officials in lobbying the state Department of Transportation for a sound barrier.

“You can’t even talk on the phone out there,” Blow told town councilors and state representatives. “You can’t enjoy the radio. You can’t even enjoy your back yard.”

Town Manager Keith Hickey said he recently called state transportation officials when he was made aware of the problem.

According to Hickey, state officials “admitted some issues” and said they’d be willing to put up a barrier if it were less expensive. Hickey said his understanding was that Merrimack doesn’t meet barrier criteria, according to the state’s guidelines on assessing and abating project-related noise.

Councilor Tim Tenhave said when the state visited this summer, it was clear no barrier or replacement buffer would be included. But Tenhave said he reviewed the state’s guidelines, and cost is just one of 10 considerations the state must make.

“Their own formula doesn’t weigh cost that heavily,” Tenhave said. “We need to push it hard and throw their rules back at them.”

Rep. Peter Batula, R-Merrimack, said he spoke with Assistant Commissioner Jeff Brillhart at the beginning of the month to say he didn’t think the state should have started a project if it didn’t have the money to complete it.

Some officials view the situation as a continued slight by the state on Merrimack, which has, for years, loudly vocalized its displeasure with turnpike tolls.

“After all the grief that we’ve given them, and all the back talk we’ve gotten from them about what the toll money is being used for, they pull this stunt,” Mahon said. “The arrogance of that department is just astounding.”

“It’s not just a sound barrier issue,” Councilor Mike Malzone later added. “It’s a quality-of-life issue. It’s the pursuit of happiness, which none of these people can have in their back yards anymore.”

Paula Castranova, of East Chamberlain Drive, said she won’t let her granddaughter go out and play.

“I’m afraid a car’s going to come off the highway,” Castranova said.

In the end, the council unanimously agreed to send a letter to the transportation commissioner and Gov. John Lynch.

Meanwhile, Lisa Dubois of Hillcrest Drive is spearheading a resident petition effort, and Batula said he has submitted legislation for a barrier, which will come up in the next session.