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Construction Noise Handbook

4.0 Construction Noise Criteria and Descriptors

4.1 Criteria

Construction noise levels may be evaluated in terms of human response and considered in the assessment of effects on wildlife and other non-human species. Noise levels and criteria are expressed in English, metric, or both conventions, depending upon the geographic area or the policies of the controlling agency. Typically, the English convention is used mostly in the United States, with the metric convention used in Canada and other countries.

While the issue of construction noise must be addressed as part of the planning of any transportation project, there are no standardized criteria on the federal level for assessing construction noise impacts related to transportation projects. Where project-specific construction noise criteria have been developed by individual agencies or municipalities, they typically consider the following factors which form the fundamentals for defining construction noise impact:

4.1.1 History of Construction Noise Criteria

4.1.1.1 United States

While noise impact and abatement criteria have been established for the operation of transportation facilities in the United States, standardized criteria have not yet been established related to noise associated with the construction of such facilities. However, since the publication of the original 1977 Reportref001, additional guidance has been disseminated (through agencies such as FHWA and FTA) and analysis tools developed to better address construction noise. For example, the FTA Transit Noise and Vibration Impact Assessment documentref014 presents guidelines that "can be considered reasonable criteria for assessment" of construction noise impacts. In addition, a number of agencies, municipalities, and other entities have developed procedures for addressing construction noise impacts and implementing related noise mitigation for their areas of jurisdiction or on a project-specific basis.

A sign on a building in an urban setting stating this residential neighborhood strictly enforces its noise ordinance.

Figure 4.1 Local noise ordinance (Photo #314)

In some instances, local entities may have developed noise ordinances that contain restrictions associated with construction noise levels. Noise practitioners and others involved in the project development process are encouraged to become familiar with such ordinances and their relationship to other State and/or municipal ordinances. In certain instances, the State jurisdiction may supersede any local noise ordinances.

An informational street sign (white background with black letters) declaring brake retarders (engine compression brakes) are prohibited within municipal limits.

Figure 4.2 Local noise restrictions (Photo #1206)

Noise restrictions may also be imposed by local and/or State authorities to deal with specific activities or operations. An example is the growing practice of restricting the use of engine compression brakes on heavy trucks in residential areas.

Noise restrictions may also be applied within the workplace associated with employee/worker exposure to noise levels over varying durations. These criteria have been established by OSHA. However, such criteria are typically not relevant or applicable to the transportation-related project construction noise levels experienced by people residing or working in areas adjacent to such projects. As such, they are not discussed within this Handbook.

Construction noise criteria within the United States vary considerably in terms of both scope and specificity and can be broadly categorized as follows, in order of complexity:

An example of more complex criteria is that associated with the Central Artery/Tunnel Project in Boston, MA. Data related to these criteria are discussed in Reference 023 and illustrated in Table 7.1 of this Handbook. This project established criteria that include both L10 and Lmax absolute noise level limits for defined noise sensitive locations (residences, institutions, hotels, etc.) for daytime, evening, and nighttime periods. In addition, the criteria established maximum noise level increases relative to established baseline noise levels. Relative and absolute noise level limits were also established for commercial and industrial areas.

From the standpoint of construction noise criteria, the intent of this Handbook is not to address all State and local noise ordinances and/or criteria, but rather, to address the approaches and techniques that may be contained in such criteria. As such, the discussions contained within this Handbook are meant to provide a summary of considerations related to all aspects of construction noise. The reader is encouraged to refer to specific references in Table 10.1 for more detailed information on noise criteria and other factors related to construction noise.

4.1.1.2 Canada

Similar to the United States, no standardized Canadian criteria exist related to transportation project construction noise. Where project-specific analysis techniques have been employed to address and/or mitigate construction-related noise and its impacts, such methods have been similar to those employed in the United States. Examples of such efforts may be found in References 010 and 019.

4.1.1.3 Other International

While an exhaustive survey of international criteria was not conducted, several criteria are discussed here for informational use only. More specifics may be found by accessing the relative links found in the Reference Database in Chapter 10.

4.2 Descriptors

While it is not the intent of this Handbook to establish criteria for evaluating construction noise impacts, it is important to stress that reasonable and defensible noise descriptors must be used to describe construction noise levels. The following are important elements related to selecting a workable noise descriptor for use in measuring and analyzing construction noise:

The descriptor most commonly chosen for use is the A-weighted equivalent sound level (energy basis), LAeq. In many cases, the time average period applied to the LAeq value is one hour (designated LAeq1h). For certain projects and operations, the time period over which the LAeq is applied may need to be examined on a case-by-case basis. For several major construction projects in the United States and Canada, the L10 (applied generally during daytime periods) and Lmax (applied for specific equipment and/or nighttime operations) descriptors have been used over varying time periods.

The Ldn descriptor has been used to assess annoyance and community reaction to construction noise. Ldn is an LAeq-based descriptor that applies a 10 dBA penalty to nighttime noise levels.

The LAeq-based and L10-based descriptors satisfy the first four elements listed above. The LAeq satisfies the fifth element and may also satisfy the sixth element (relative to subjective responses). However, the LAeq, L10, and Lmax descriptors may not be suited for determining responses by some aquatic wildlife (where using an un-weighted sound pressure level may be more suitable) or for owls (where use of a different weighting category such as dBO or a descriptor such as SEL may be more suitable to account for effects such as air blasts associated with blasting). More detailed information related to these specific conditions might be found in documents listed in Section 3.2.6 of this document.

Updated: 07/05/2011
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