What's that noise?

When John from the Ravenna neighborhood e-mails me at 2 a.m. saying pavement grinding work on I-5 in Seattle sounds like “airplanes landing in [his] neighbor’s backyard,” I decide to check out the noise myself. I don’t see any crash-landing Boeing jets, but it sure does sound like it.

To get a good idea of how loud it is, listen to this video with your headphones on. I shot this video at midnight 200 feet from I-5 near John’s house at NE 72nd Street.

Pavement grinding is that loud.

No question about it, grinding down 40 years worth of battered, rutted concrete is noisy. However every night our grinders are out there making noise, our highway is getting safer for drivers. The stacked, circular, diamond blades create a textured, corduroy pattern that improves traction for drivers and helps keep standing water off the road, preventing collisions.

During the past few months folks like John have put up with a lot of construction noise on I-5.

The noise started back in February with screeching concrete saws ripping out crumbling concrete panels in the snow (photo, right).

In the springtime residents endured pavement grinders grinding out rutted concrete 24 hours a day all weekend long.

Neighbors enjoyed a reprieve in early summer while crews working for WSDOT shifted their schedule to finish another WSDOT pavement grinding job in the eastern part of the state.

From the sound of things, the crews are back in town. We are grinding down portions of I-5 in both directions from just south of the Ship Canal Bridge to NE 145th Street in Shoreline. We're running at least three grinding machines at the same time to complete the project as fast as possible. Depending on where you live we will finish up the grinding by the fall, a month or so later than we had earlier thought.

Most of the folks I’ve chatted with about the project understand the work needs to get done. They want to know when we will be working near their home and what they can do to block out the loud noise robbing them of sleep at night.

I-5 neighbors can check the site to see where grinders will be working that week. It takes one of our grinders about 10 minutes to grind 60 feet of concrete four feet wide*. The average property lot along I-5 is between 50 and 60 feet wide. This means that if the grinders are working directly near your home, you will hear the noise ramp up and then ease off over a period of about an hour as the grinders move down the highway and away from your area.

I empathize with neighbors and will personally mail free earplugs to anyone who requests them. These earplugs are the same type of ear protection our pavement grinding crews use so there is a good chance they will block out more noise than average earplugs you may find at the corner store.

Finally, I want to thank all those living along the freeway for your patience and understanding while we smooth out nearly 20 miles of wheel ruts, cracks and uneven pavement.

When the work is finished everyone who drives this stretch of road will breathe a sigh of relief from a smoother ride, improved traction and a safer highway.

*Each lane is 12 feet wide, we will grind across all lanes of I-5. The 12-foot lanes require crews to make several passes in order to grind the whole width of each lane. The process is similar to mowing a lawn row after row, only this “lawn” is 72 feet wide and six miles long – in both directions.