Last week Valla residents once again met with the big wheels of the Pacific Highway upgrade project to talk about the noise that’s driving them all up the walls.
Pacific Highway general manager Bob Higgins and senior project manager Yvonne Bowles were invited to the Pearl estate for a first-hand auditory demonstration of the noise which residents say is ruining their peace of mind.
Pearl at Valla is still trying to attract buyers for its 44 ‘semi-rural, part-acreage’ allotments which border the old highway just north of the Valla Beach turnoff.
“Here, where the bushland tranquility meets the endless sands of Valla Beach and the Tasman Sea, lies your new dream home,” the website reads.
But the elevation of the estate, combined with now six lanes of highway traffic leaves a lot to be desired in the ‘bushland tranquility’ department.
Mr Higgins made it clear from the outset that he wasn’t there to “make any commitments”.
“We’re just coming to listen to the noise,” Mr Higgins said.
The Pearl estate meeting was just one of a handful of visits made recently to the area to address the community’s noise concerns.
Thursday’s was a more casual meeting than past ones with the contingent enjoying wine and cheese in the balmy spring evening weather.
But the unease was no less palpable as residents voiced their distress.
John Kingston, who organised the gathering, was at pains for Mr Higgins to understand how much the noise was affecting his family’s and his neighbours’ quality of life.
“One family has already sold and another is getting ready to do the same,” Mr Kingston said.
Last night we had to close the doors and windows just to hear the tv.
“We deliberately built the house without airconditioning so we could enjoy the outdoors, but that is just impossible with this noise.
“The worst option for us would be to get double glazing because that would lock us inside.
“The acoustics are such that sometimes we can hear the noise louder on the far side of the house.”
Mr Higgins commented that he was surprised by what Mr Kingston was saying.
Rob Ellingham said he and his wife, Wendii, had “moved up from SA to enjoy the weather—the best weather in Australia—but can’t do that because we have to shut the window”.
Chris Wilson and Chris Holliday live on the western side of the freeway and said that the noise “used to be so that you could still carry on a civilised conversation, but not anymore”.
“I’m counting something like 10 trucks a minute—it’s horrific,” Ms Wilson said.
Kerry-Anne Dillow told the group that when her family used to live within 20m of a freeway and under a flight path, the din was not a problem like the current level of noise is.
“My daughter is now waking up at 2am with nightmares because she thinks someone’s breaking in and I have to reassure her that no, it’s just a truck,” Ms Dillow said.
“And I just want to say, that we’re all pro-freeway—we’re aware of the benefits, and there’s certainly less deaths.
“But with this noise, it’s just horrific at night.”
Mr Higgins discussed sound-minimising options with the group including a cement-grinding procedure that had been successfully trialled on the Hunter Expressway, or the possibility of 3.5m walls beside the highway.
“With all due respect, the plans for this highway have been drawn up and available for a very long time—since before this estate was here,” Mr Higgins said
“Having said that, we are exploring options, and I’m willing to come back.
But I’ve heard noise levels like this in other houses in other sections of highway and, to be perfectly honest with you, we haven’t done any treatment.
Mr Higgins and Ms Bowles then agreed to arrange a meeting with Chris Wilson to listen to the scale of the noise outside her house on the other side of the freeway.
While John Kingston was pleased that Mr Higgins had made the effort to listen to their concerns, he said that he wasn’t going to be happy without real action on the issue.
When asked what he would do if nothing further was done by RMS to minimise noise, Mr Kingston said he “would take legal action”.
“And I’ve got grounds because their noise reports were blatantly dishonest,” Mr Kingston said.
A spokesperson from Melinda Pavey’s office said that RMS was not inclined to act except on Mr Higgins’ recommendations, as the person in charge of the process.