If you live anywhere near a state road, you are likely to soon find yourself tormented by the never-ending noise of a centerline rumble strip. The New Jersey Roadway Design Manual calls for centerline rumble strips on virtually all undivided two-lane roads in urban and rural areas. Other than a brief mention in the roadway design manual, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has absolutely no written policy concerning the deployment of rumble strips in residential areas and has absolutely no concern for the welfare of those impacted by the noisy devices.
The low pitched, high decibel staccato burst of a rumble strip is quite different from the general hum of highway noise, and is impossible to ignore. It is designed to jar distracted or tired drivers into alertness, and it does the same to sleeping families in houses along the roadside. The Department will tell you that carpeting New Jersey with these rumble strips is about saving lives. In fact, it is about money. Rumble strips have become the preferred method of the Department of Transportation in attempting to improve road safety, since rumble strip projects are 100 percent paid for with federal dollars.
It is not disputed that under some circumstances rumble strips can improve road safety. But unlike departments of transportation in other states that have implemented rumble strips alongside careful policy documents, the New Jersey Department of Transportation has conducted no studies and issued no policy to demonstrate a thoughtful and considered process. The department’s implementation of rumble strips is a pell-mell money grab intended to be rushed through before the public notices what has happened.
When the department was asked under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to provide all studies relied upon in assessing the safety and suitability of centerline rumble strips in residential areas, the only document provided was a Canadian study that stated emphatically that centerline rumble strips should not be installed within 200 meters of residential or urban areas. The department completely disregards this directive, while offering no alternative policies or studies.
Despite gleefully spending federal taxpayer money, the department utterly disregards federal guidelines related to minimizing noise in residential areas. Federal guidelines for implementation of rumble strips emphasize outreach to the public, omitting rumble strips in residential areas, and a general flexibility on the part of state agencies in addressing local conditions.
The NJDOT disdains the public, stubbornly refuses to omit rumble strips in residential areas, and exhibits no design flexibility. In fact, the department seemingly makes no effort at design whatsoever, instead calling for rumble strip placement willy-nilly on all roads, without study of specific road circumstances.
I know this because last June, without notice, the NJDOT installed a centerline rumble strip in front of my house in West Amwell, creating unbearable noise for me and my family, as well as in the environmentally sensitive Delaware & Raritan Canal Park alongside the road. Cars and trucks hit the rumble strip all day and all night while cutting short the sharp horizontal curve at my corner. Furthermore, the rumble strip was installed illegally, without proper permit from the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission.
Entirely ignoring Federal Highway Administration guidelines, the department stubbornly refuses to remove the rumble strip, despite admitting that there is no specific roadway safety concern that is being addressed. Specifically, the department refuses to remove the rumble strip for fear of setting a “precedent.” In other words, they don’t want anyone else to get the idea that it is not the department’s right to put a rumble strip through a neighborhood without notice.
While all efforts to improve road safety should be applauded, centerline rumble strips must be deployed in an intelligent and considered fashion, taking noise pollution and roadway characteristics into account, and with communication with, and respect for, the public. The department must follow Federal Highway Administration guidelines in mitigating rumble strip noise and follow all environmental laws. The constant claim by the department that centerline rumble strips are a “low cost” means of improving road safety must be recast. It is not “low cost” when there are profound external effects on homeowners and the environment. It is just low cost to the department.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation needs to be reminded that it answers to the people of the state of New Jersey.
Dr. Michael Ehrenreich lives in West Amwell.
(The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Free Press.)