State, Lake County, residents at odds over noisy Route 41 rumble strips
There's no escaping the stentorian thunder of the Route 41 rumble strips, Highland Park residents say.
"It's intolerable," homeowner Bruce Nathanson said. "I walk in the morning with headsets on and I can hear the rumble strips through my headsets a mile away. We could be watching television with the doors and windows closed and we can hear every car and truck," depending on weather conditions.
The racket for many residents west of the rumble strips, located south of Park Avenue, is so loud it caught the ear of Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart. In March, Rinehart filed a noise complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board seeking a hearing. He cited an 2021 IDOT study registering decibel levels of 57.2 to 102.7 near the strips compared to the allowed range of 40 to 75.
Illinois Department of Transportation officials said the rumble strips were intended to save lives, not disrupt them. They noted a statewide trend of over 1,000 deaths a year on highways -- with speeding and distracted driving playing "a huge role."
"More than 56,000 vehicles a day travel on U.S. 41 through the Park Avenue intersection," IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said. "This particular location is the first intersection with traffic signals exiting the Edens Expressway, so the department is particularly sensitive to the need to alert drivers to pay attention to conditions, reduce speeds and prepare to stop."
The cacophony started in 2019 when IDOT rebuilt Route 41 and installed new rumble strips in the northbound lanes, said Nathanson, a member of the Route 41 Rumble Strips Committee.
"Thousands of area residents are negatively impacted by the noise 24/7," he said, including parts of Highwood.
In 2022, IDOT downsized the strips using asphalt, but still "the traffic going over the transverse rumble strips prevents some residents in the area from sleeping at night," Rinehart stated in the complaint.
For Nathanson "the only realistic hope I have is because they're asphalt -- it's a softer material -- and if I live long enough, maybe they'll get worn down."
Studies show rumble strips can reduce crashes by 30% to 60%, a 2016 U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report stated.
The trick is designing ones that "provide enough warning noise inside the vehicle while at the same time trying to minimize outside noise," researchers said.
The Federal Highway Administration confirmed the strips meet its requirements, Castaneda said. "We look forward to any dialogue that addresses community concerns while preserving public safety."
Meanwhile, a University of Illinois study found after installing the smaller rumble strips on Route 41 in 2022, decibel levels decreased.
Environmental law expert Shawn Collins empathizes with residents enduring excess noise but noted that Rinehart's complaint only cited decibel levels measured close to the rumble strips -- not in impacted neighborhoods, which are about 700 feet west of Route 41.
"There's nothing that tells you about an unacceptable decibel level in the neighborhood that's alleged to be affected," Collins said.
On Thursday, pollution control board members accepted Rinehart's complaint -- although that doesn't guarantee a hearing. IDOT attorneys are expected to challenge it.
If a hearing happens, the board likely will weigh IDOT's goal of reducing crashes against noise disruptions, said Collins, a Naperville attorney who has won numerous lawsuits against polluters.
At present, "it seems to be a good-faith effort to prevent serious traffic crashes and injuries."
Rumble strips were first instituted on highways to alert drivers who were falling asleep at strategic locations on interstates, University of Illinois at Chicago Urban Transportation Center Director P.S. Sriraj said.
"In this day and age of distracted driving, it's meant to enhance safety especially when drivers meet a heavily trafficked corridor."
One more thing
It's been nearly two months since the U.S. Surface Transportation Board approved a merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways. In the interim, U.S. Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg and Delia Ramirez of Chicago asked the Federal Railroad Administration to intervene after recent disastrous derailments and hazmat releases in Ohio and Minnesota.
Both want the FRA to scrutinize CP's plans and STB safety requirements to ensure the suburbs "do not face the same fate" as residents in East Palestine, Ohio, and Raymond, Minnesota.
The FRA will provide quarterly updates on safety measures, a Krishnamoorthi spokesman said Wednesday.
Schaumburg and Hanover Park drivers should expect delays from daytime lane closures at Irving Park and Wise roads through November as IDOT crews rebuild the intersection.