Sound Transit plans further tests after complaints of screeching and grating loud enough to affect sleep and property values.
If it were up to her, Sharon Nakata would go spray WD-40 on the Sound Transit light-rail tracks herself.
She says she just can’t take the screeching, tearing, grating sound now grinding past the Tukwila neighborhood where she’s lived for more than 60 years. Trains go by about every five minutes, 20 hours a day most days, on elevated tracks 140 feet away, and the noise sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard or a broken wheel on a grocery cart — but much louder — say some residents of the 90 homes located between East Marginal Way and Duwamish Park. And, they say, it’s knocking down their property values.
Sound Transit officials say the screeching noise was unexpected, and they’re not sure how they’ll fix it — or if they’ll fix it at all. The noise level was within the federally approved range during a 2008 test run, and spokesman Bruce Gray says it might be bothering residents because they aren’t used to it yet.
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“It’s not a noise we wanted to get used to,” said Jennifer Haynes, who lives on South 116th Street. Haynes and eight other residents met recently and decided to compel Sound Transit to fix the noise.
Gray said Sound Transit is waiting for results from recent noise testing, which will be released in the next few weeks, before officials decide whether to build a sound-muffling wall. For now, the transportation authority is considering lubricating the tracks.
The trains are still being tested on the 14-mile route between downtown Seattle and Tukwila, with service to begin July 18.
David and Laurie Shumate, who moved into their remodeled 1920s home two years ago, take issue with Sound Transit’s November noise readings. David Shumate bought his own sound meter and says he has measured levels above 80 decibels, 10 decibels louder — that is, 10 times louder — than Sound Transit’s measurements from 2008. A rock concert is measured at 100 decibels, and levels higher than 80 decibels over continuous periods can result in hearing loss, according to a Sound Transit report.
“We don’t want to move, but … ” David Shumate said, sighing deeply before finishing, “I don’t know.”
Worst noise yet
Haynes admits she and her neighbors live in a loud area; there’s a major road to the west, a rifle range nearby and planes from two airports flying overhead. But the trains’ high-pitched screech is different, worse.
“It hurts more,” Haynes said. The first time she heard the noise, she said she thought cars were crashing outside her house.
“It puts you on edge, like something bad is going to happen, as weird as that sounds. It’s like a plane landing on your house instead of just a plane landing [at one of the nearby airports],” she said.
And because the track is elevated, houses and trees don’t buffer the sound. “It’s like someone’s pointing the sound right at you,” David Shumate said.
Nakata says the noise keeps her and her neighbors from sleeping and causes stress. “When it becomes a health issue, you shouldn’t have to put up with the noise,” she said.
Jerry Howard, managing partner of real-estate firm John L. Scott West Seattle, says house values go down as noise levels go up.
“Anytime you have something like a busy street or rail, it’s going to affect the value of a house,” Howard said. “You have to keep reducing the price until it’s enticing.”
Shumate, Nakata and Haynes all say the value of their homes has dropped about 20 to 25 percent in the past year. The average drop over the past year was 15 percent, according to the King County Department of Assessments.
In a 2004 report, Sound Transit projected there would be no noise impact on the neighborhood overall, save for two “severely affected” houses about 400 feet away from the Shumates. The report recommended noise-mitigation methods for those two houses but added that noise walls would be “unreasonable” because they’d need to be more than 7 feet tall and could cost more than $80,000.
The two houses are now abandoned.
After building the tracks, Sound Transit tested noise levels near the Shumates’ house. Last year it measured noise levels of six trains — one on the northbound tracks and five on the southbound — at about 50 mph.
The test found no impact on the neighborhood. Records show the loudest reading was 72.6 decibels, and officials predicted the noise levels would decrease once the tracks smoothed out from use.
But now, residents say, the noise is getting louder.
“It’s much, much, much, much louder than it used to be,” Haynes said. “They said it would be the sound of a whooshing as it goes by. It’s definitely more than the whoosh of the wind.”
Original plans for the track included a nearby station, which would have caused trains to slow when they passed through the neighborhood, but access issues caused Sound Transit to defer that station, Gray said.
“There are no plans on the books to build a station there,” Gray said.
If the recent tests show noise levels are impacting the neighborhood, Sound Transit will try methods used in other neighborhoods to solve the problem, such as lubrication, sound walls, soundproofing homes — even installing air conditioning in homes so residents can keep their windows closed in the summer.
The Shumates say new air conditioning is not a solution to their problem.
“That doesn’t help when we’re outside,” Laurie Shumate said. The Shumates spend their spare time converting what they disparagingly call the previous owner’s “English garden” into a lush yard full of plants native to the Duwamish River area.
“We don’t want to fill up our lives with hounding Sound Transit,” David said.
Lindsay Toler: 206-464-2463 or seattletimes.com“>firstname.lastname@example.org