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Avoiding, Minimizing, and Mitigating Noise from Highways

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. The best way to prevent negative impacts from daily highway noise is to situate noise-sensitive land uses away from roads. When this is not possible, or when the sensitive land use existed before the road, the next option is to try to minimize the noise emitted by the source – individual vehicles and the roadway; or provide mitigation such as noise walls, for groups of sensitive receptors.

Noise Compatible Land Use Planning

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.

Source Control

The Noise Control Act of 1972 gives the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority 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.

In addition, State DOTs can participate in FHWAs Quite Pavement Pilot Program to investigate the use of Quieter Pavements as a form of controlling the amount of noise that a highway generates. Quieter pavements can be more costly to maintain than 'normal' pavements and may lose their acoustic benefits within a few years without this maintenance.

Highway Project Noise Mitigation

The FHWA regulations for mitigation of highway traffic noise (23 CFR 772) in the planning and design of federally aided highways 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.

Updated: 06/23/2022
Updated: 6/23/2022
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