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Highway Traffic Noise

Photo of Noise Barrier along a highway

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is the agency responsible for administering the Federal-aid highway program in accordance with Federal statutes and regulations.  The FHWA developed the noise regulations as required by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-605, 84 Stat. 1713). The regulation, 23 CFR 772 Procedures for Abatement of Highway Traffic Noise and Construction Noise, applies to highway construction projects where a State department of transportation has requested Federal funding for participation in the project. The regulation requires the highway agency to investigate traffic noise impacts in areas adjacent to federally-aided highways for proposed construction of a highway on a new location or the reconstruction of an existing highway to either significantly change the horizontal or vertical alignment or increase the number of through-traffic lanes.  If the highway agency identifies impacts, it must consider abatement.  The highway agency must incorporate all feasible and reasonable noise abatement into the project design.

However, effective control of the undesirable effects of highway traffic noise requires a 3-part approach: Noise Compatible Planning, Source Control and Highway Project Noise Mitigation.

Land Use Planning and Control

State and local governments have the authority to regulate land use planning or the land development process. The FHWA and other Federal agencies encourage State and local governments to practice land use planning and control in the vicinity of highways to avoid future noise impacts and the need to provide noise abatement for future highway projects. The Federal Government advocates use of local government authority to regulate land development in such a way that noise-sensitive land uses are either prohibited from being located adjacent to a highway, or that the developments are planned, designed, and constructed in such a way that noise impacts are minimized.

Some State and local governments have enacted legislative statutes for land use planning and control. Although other States and local governments have similar laws, the entire issue of land use is extremely complicated with a vast array of competing considerations entering into any actual land use control decisions. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to measure the progress of using land use to control the effects of noise.

Source Control

The Noise Control Act of 1972 gives the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to establish noise regulations to control major sources of noise, including transportation vehicles and construction equipment. In addition, this legislation requires EPA to issue noise emission standards for motor vehicles used in Interstate commerce (vehicles used to transport commodities across State boundaries) and requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to enforce these noise emission standards.

Highway Project Noise Mitigation

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 provides broad authority and responsibility for evaluating and mitigating adverse environmental effects including highway traffic noise. The NEPA directs the Federal government to use all practical means and measures to promote the general welfare and foster a healthy environment.

Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1970 is an important Federal legislation, which specifically involves abatement of highway traffic noise. This law mandates FHWA to develop noise standards for mitigating highway traffic noise.

The law requires promulgation of traffic noise-level criteria for various land use activities and further provides that FHWA cannot approve the plans and specifications for a federally aided highway project unless the project includes adequate noise abatement measures to comply with the standards. The FHWA has developed and implemented regulations for the mitigation of highway traffic noise in federal-aid highway projects.

The FHWA regulations for mitigation of highway traffic noise in the planning and design of federally aided highways are contained in Title 23 of the United States Code of Federal Regulations Part 772. The regulations require the following during the planning and design of a highway project:

  1. Identification of traffic noise impacts; examination of potential mitigation measures;
  2. The incorporation of reasonable and feasible noise mitigation measures into the highway project; and
  3. Coordination with local officials to provide helpful information on compatible land use planning and control.

The regulations contain noise abatement criteria, which represent the upper limit of acceptable highway traffic noise for different types of land uses and human activities. The regulations do not require meeting the abatement criteria in every instance. Rather, they require highway agencies make every reasonable and feasible effort to provide noise mitigation when the criteria are approached or exceeded. Compliance with the noise regulations is a prerequisite for the granting of Federal-aid highway funds for construction or reconstruction of a highway.

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Updated: 07/08/2014
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