Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hey Asphalt!

My house is quieter lately. Yes, my boys are too often off at camp or off watching airplane shows. And yes, it is mighty quiet when the air conditioner is on and the windows are shut tight to ward off the 90's. But the real difference is the freeway.

Last weekend, they shut the eastbound stretch of the freeway that lies two blocks north of my house. I know this because there was an awful lot of grousing coming from the front seats during the pokey detour to the dog park. I gathered they were re-surfacing. According to my Susan and Dave: "It is about time."

Living right by the freeway apparently has some advantages beyond being near the on and off ramps for speedy travel. The freeway and the train tracks probably sheer fifty thousand bucks off the house prices. That's a lot of peanut butter!

If you can afford to not hear the freeway, you'll settle further away. But my people got a nice big house at a pretty young age because they can pretend the whoosh of the freeway is a surging river or a brisk wind in the treetops.

Freeway din aside, our little neighborhood really is a peaceful, forgotten island. We're also cut off by some busy city roads and we aren't on the way to anything else. If you don't live here, there's not much reason to wonder about our two blocks. The neighbors balance friendliness and mind-their-own-beeswax quite nicely. And I don't think it crosses many crooks' minds that folks with stuff live here.

We also have the train tracks on the next block. They don't blow their whistles much and it is a pleasant enough sound when they do. From my morning poop stop in the park, we often see the Amtrak passenger train heading to Chicago. I like the rhythmic clacking of the wheels.

When the flight path passes overhead about once a week, we learn what real noise is. I suppose you'd get used to it if you had to. But I dislike planes that low.

But come Monday morning after the re-surfacing, Susan opened her eyes and said, "Sure is quiet. Do you think asphalt is quieter than concrete?" And later that day, driving once again to the dog park, her suspicions were confirmed as we crossed the new asphalt/old concrete line and the hum of the tires kicked up in pitch and decibels. Eliminating the potholes, cracks and other noisy bumps also helped.

Not everyone is pleased about the asphalt. "Hey Asphalt" billboards along the 94 project (put up by team concrete) decry the asphalt choice and claim concrete lasts longer, is more economic and takes less maintenance.

Team asphalt responds that asphalt is more environmental as it can be scraped up and reused. And lots of those folks say asphalt really is quieter. Apparently the Germans, master engineers that they are, make their road bases out of concrete and surface them with asphalt to tap the best qualities of both.

Honestly, I think we should let MNDOT decide what works best for our conditions. They think about this stuff more than I ever will... In fact, here are two dozen research projects about road surfaces MNDOT has going.

Minnesota's climate is pretty brutal for roads. What works in the more gentle climes might not work here. And the quietest asphalt has an open texture that reduces noise but might prove to be pothole paradise with all our freezing and thawing. MNDOT says:

"SMA and OGFC pavements have been used extensively in the southern United States with great success. However, far fewer states in cold climates have used these open-textured mixes. As a result little is know about the performance of open-textured mixes in cold climates. There is a fear that over the harsh winter the pavement will disintegrate due to sand and salt operations, freeze-thaw action, snow plowing operations, and the like. There is a need to conduct a controlled experiment in a northern state like Minnesota to determine the durability and performance of a pavement built for certain surface characteristics. MnROAD offers an experimental site where the risk can be taken to construct and monitor open-texture mixes in a cold environment."  

What Carmella knows: concrete or asphalt, the road noise isn't as bad as that freakin' vacuum at ten feet - which is close enough, thank you very much!


  1. Thanks for pounding the pavement choices, Carmella. The sound that really gets me is the hand dryers in some bathrooms. I have to put my fingers in my ears when they're running, which makes me think there at or above 140 decibels.

    (Having your fingers in your ears makes it kind of hard to wash, let alone dry, your hands.)

  2. Yikes! Hand dryers are the worst -- I can hear those jet powered dryers from outside. (I am not allowed in many bathrooms, thank the gods!) I am sure there is a table online that will tell us. I am on the trail!

  3. Wow Carmella, you brood a lot when the boys are gone, huh? Or is it the heat gettin' you down?

  4. You are right, Ms. Sparrow, I have lots of time to brood when my guys are gone. Susan is happy cleaning, paying bills, watching BBC shows about people in time-consuming clothing and eating leftover pizza (I like that last part as I get the crusts). But what do I get to do? Sleep. Chew on my bone, think up my next blog post... Tomorrow there will be more people to rub my belly!