vanessa-newVanessa Remmers covers Stafford County government and schools for and The Free Lance-Star.

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Exceptions to noise levels still under discussion

Construction work for HOT lanes along Interstate 95 could be loud for the next two years—louder than Stafford County code previously allowed.

A new amendment could let the county administrator grant exemptions to permissible noise levels when there is no concern for public health or safety.

The Board of Supervisors deferred a vote Tuesday to get more information from county staff about the proposal. It could come back up at the Oct. 2 meeting.

“I’m concerned about an outside contractor coming in and making this appeal to do night work and it may sound like it’s a legitimate deal,” Snellings said. “And I find out about it after the fact, it’s all approved.” He wanted the board to be able to grant the exemption, not the county administrator.

“This might be another one that cries out for us to take a measured look at this,” County Attorney Charles Shumate said. The public hearing remains open.

Previously, exemptions to the noise levels were permitted only in case of emergency. Daytime noise by residential districts is limited to 65 decibels, and night-time noise at 55 decibels.

But Fluor-Lane 95 LLC, the design-build firm constructing the High Occupancy Toll Lane project with VDOT on the I-95 corridor, requested a waiver. Construction noise could exceed 80 decibels, Fluor-Lane 95 told the county.

A letter from an assistant Virginia attorney general said that VDOT contractors did not have to comply with local noise ordinance regulations. That means the proposed amendment is not necessary for the HOT lanes project.

The express lanes, expected to be up and running by the end of 2014, are touted as a way to ease congestion and spark the economy.

The lanes, part of a nearly $1 billion project, will be integrated into the HOV-lane system used by vehicles carrying at least three people. Work began last month. The express lanes will carry variable electronic tolls adjusted according to the traffic flow. Cars with at least three people, motorcycles, buses and vanpools will be able to use the lanes for free.

The infrastructure committee said it seemed impractical to not allow exemptions for projects that are “of significant public interest.” Nearby jurisdictions allowed for exemptions, according to Stafford documents.

“It could potentially be for a development project but they’d have to show the public benefit to this project and that it’s a hardship for them not to comply,” Planning Director Jeff Harvey said.

Under the amendment, any person causing noise would have to apply to the county administrator or his designee for an exemption. Under consideration would be the time of day, duration of noise, loudness of noise, whether it’s intermittent or continuous, and any other factor that may be related to the health, safety and welfare of the community.

Exemptions are not needed in the case of an emergency situation or emergency work.