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'Gabriel’s trumpets': Highway noise causes disruption for some city residents

David Floyd • Updated Mar 10, 2020 at 9:19 AM

Like a dozen Harley Davidson motorcycles barreling down the road at one time.

That’s how Patricia Horton, 69, describes the sound that tractor-trailers make when they hit their jake (or compression release engine) brakes as they drive down the portion of Interstate 26 that runs beside her home at 701 Edgewood Drive.

Horton, who noted she can sometimes be a light sleeper, said the noise has been loud enough in the past to wake her up in the wee morning hours just after midnight.

“It’s frightening whenever you first hear it,” she said. “It’s like it just jars you out of a sound sleep and you think, ‘What was that?’ I think of Gabriel’s trumpets.”

Horton, who has lived in her house on Edgewood Drive since 2018, says she’s spent about $20,000 to insulate her home from the noise, a project that included replacing all her windows, installing vinyl siding and putting in extra insulation in her bedroom. She said it can be especially bad around 3 p.m. when schools let out.

Horton said she’s recently been in contact with Gov. Bill Lee’s office, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Johnson City about the issue and hasn’t gained traction on the implementation of a solution, noting that there seems to be a prohibitively large number of hoops to jump through. She wants to see a noise barrier installed on the part of the highway that runs by her home.

A Johnson City spokesperson said Monday questions about noise barriers on the interstate would fall under the umbrella of the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Mark Nagi, TDOT’s community relations officer for East Tennessee, said residents can email [email protected] or call 1-877-SmartWay with comments, concerns, complaints or suggestions. He said the agency works with regional planning organizations to decide which projects to prioritize.

He suggested that residents experiencing noise issues contact the First Tennessee Regional Planning Organization or the Johnson City Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization.

Andrea Case, a 33-year-old housewife who rents property near Horton, says it can be annoying when emergency vehicles pass with sirens blaring, which can be irritating because she has an infant in the household, but said the traffic noise hasn’t been very disruptive.

“I grew up hearing it,” she said, adding that she was raised by a highway in Cookeville. “So I doesn’t bother me.”

Shawn Farr, 39, works as a carpenter at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and has three kids. He and his family live on Baxter Street and Farr said semi trucks tend to engage their jake brakes as they pass by his home.

“It rattles the windows, rattles the pictures,” he said.

Farr said his youngest child, 2, sleeps on a side of their home that’s close to the interstate, and although the noise doesn’t impact Farr’s sleep as much, the din from the roadway will occasionally wake his kids up during the night.

Farr said the noise is just one issue he’s been having with the upkeep of the interstate. He said a fence by his home has grown so dilapidated that he had to cut dangling barbed wire off of it and that trees on the other side of the fence have grown so high that they became tangled with his power lines, which Farr had to rent a lift to fix.

Although he said he hasn’t been too persistent about these problems, Farr said he did reach out to TDOT by email a couple years ago to see if they could resolve the issues.

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