Noise-weary Sandy Springs residents want I-285 sound barrier

The new I-285 interchange at Ga. 400 continues to change with new detours and ramps as the project continues. Most work is done at night and on weekends. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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The new I-285 interchange at Ga. 400 continues to change with new detours and ramps as the project continues. Most work is done at night and on weekends. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Sleep researcher Jeff Kahn says his expertise on getting a good night’s sleep isn’t helping him much at home.

He and his wife Candace were starting a family when they moved from Chicago to the Atwater neighborhood of Sandy Springs in January 2021. They now have a three-year-old and a newborn baby but Kahn, as well as his neighbors, say road noise coming from I-285 prevents them from sleeping at night.

The busy interstate is located about 50 yards from the back of the residential development. At night, Atwater residents hear highway vehicles and work crews from the Georgia Department of Transportation reconstructing the I-285 and Ga. 400 interchange.

The Kahns’ screened-in porch faces I-285 and is at the same height as the road.

“We want them to be able to sleep well at night and not wake up because they’re hearing this traffic noise,” Kahn said of his children. “My wife and I decide who is on diaper duty and which one of us gets to wear the ear plugs at night.”

“One of the things we find in sleep science research is that people will get used to road noise but it changes your sleep quality,” he said. “It’s really not even a comfort thing, it’s a public health concern,” added Kahn, an engineer and co-founder of the app Rise Science.

Atwater is a community of 88 homes. At least 79 residents have added their names to a petition started in April asking why Atwater has no noise barrier. Residents said they plan to send the petition to GDOT and have already included it in a request to the city of Sandy Springs for help with the issue.

City spokesman Jason Fornicola did not provide details when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked how the city might help the Atwater neighborhood get approval for a noise barrier.

Fornicola said via emails that the city takes residents’ concerns on the issue seriously and has advocated on their behalf to GDOT.

“...It is ultimately GDOT’s decision,” Fornicola said. “But we will continue to advocate for communities adjacent to these expanded road projects because they have a right to the quiet, peaceful enjoyment of their property.”

Motorists driving on I-285 might spy a yellow banner with black lettering hanging from an Atwater resident’s upper deck that reads, “@GDOT Where is our Noise Barrier?”

The I-285/Ga. 400 construction started in 2017. In the $800 million project called Transform 285/400, GDOT is adding new lanes alongside I-285 and Ga. 400, rebuilding nearby interchanges and replacing numerous bridges.

Resident Rich Korb and his Atwater neighbors are pressing GDOT to provide a noise barrier to absorb the sounds of traffic and construction but so far they have been denied.

Atwater is a community of homes and townhomes located between Lake Forrest Drive and Roswell Road. The permit to build the residences by John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods was issued in 2016 and most residents began moving in about 2018.

Neighbors said they’ve bought sound machines for their bedrooms or wear ear plugs to block out the noise.

“We have to sleep with a noise machine in our room otherwise the brakes from tractor-trailers and sounds of engines is just terrible,” Korb said.

Korb said that he also spent $10,000 on noise reduction window inserts for his bedroom.

“We just want a reduction in the noise,” he said.

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Jeff Kahn, a resident of Atwater in Sandy Springs, points to I-285/Ga. 400 construction across from his back yard on Friday, June 3, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Jeff Kahn, a resident of Atwater in Sandy Springs, points to I-285/Ga. 400 construction across from his back yard on Friday, June 3, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Jeff Kahn, a resident of Atwater in Sandy Springs, points to I-285/Ga. 400 construction across from his back yard on Friday, June 3, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Sound levels are measured in decibels and according to GDOT, a noise level of 66 decibels or higher is considered an impacted area.

Natalie Dale, spokeswoman for the organization, said a test of the noise level was last conducted in the community in 2020 and Atwater does not qualify for a sound barrier wall. She did not provide a decibel reading when the AJC asked.

Atwater didn’t exist when GDOT conducted a sound study in same area in 2015 in preparation for the project, she added. At that time only a few older homes were on the site and numerous trees that have since been cut down helped to buffer traffic noise.

A sound barrier would have cost $400,000, according to a 2016 GDOT report on the project and sound level findings.

Dale said Atwater will be part of a sound study next year for the Ga. 400 Express Lanes project which will run along 16 miles of the corridor. That will be performed before the end of March 2023. The results will be provided during a public open house series that will be held during the first quarter of the year, she said.

Dale could not confirm when a barrier wall would be installed if Atwater qualifies for one in that study.

Atwater residents said they worry the wall will not be installed for 5-10 years.

Korb, who has talked and corresponded with GDOT about a noise barrier, said he is doubtful of the accuracy of the software and equipment the transportation organization used to gauge the noise level in the past.

His own noise meter registers 67-70 decibels on his deck, Korb said.

According to GDOT, a decibel level of 70 outdoors sounds similar to a Boeing 757 airplane taking off two miles away. The same decibel level indoors is equivalent to a vacuum cleaner running about 10 feet away. And the noise level in the Atwater neighborhood hasn’t reached those levels, Dale said.

Also, the transportation agency would only be concerned with the traffic noise, she added.

“Sound walls are not meant for construction noise reduction,” Dale said.

Reconstruction of the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023.

“Certainly we understand the neighborhood is in a very unique area and the quality of life, that location - near one busiest highways in the country - provides (Atwater residents) with a lot of benefits,” Dale said.

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A large yellow sign that reads “@GDOT Where is our Noise Barrier” hangs on the deck of a home overlooking the I-285/Ga. 400 construction. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

A large yellow sign that reads “@GDOT Where is our Noise Barrier” hangs on the deck of a home overlooking the I-285/Ga. 400 construction.  (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
A large yellow sign that reads “@GDOT Where is our Noise Barrier” hangs on the deck of a home overlooking the I-285/Ga. 400 construction. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com