Community Columns

Runaway growth in Modesto leads to runaway noise

Amid all the concerns valley residents rightfully have about growth, let me add one more: noise pollution. And I'm not talking about the idiots in their cars who seek to go deaf with the stereos turned so loud that surrounding cars shudder from it. I'm referring to the ever-louder Highway 99, emergency vehicle sirens and medevac helicopters.

Twenty years ago, you could open your windows in the evening and enjoy the shouts of children playing, birds debating, perhaps a lawn mower. In the early morning, silence allowed uninterrupted sleep. Highway 99 had the occasional burp of a downshifting tractor trailer, the infrequent brief squawk of a siren that signaled a speeder intercepted. Doctors Medical Center didn't have a helicopter. And children weren't being born with the mandate that the moment they turned 16, they had to have a brand new SUV (for which I do blame the parents).

I can't open my windows at night anymore, and even during the day, there is a steady din. Gone are the summer evenings sitting outside. Who wants to listen to the racket?

Highway 99's roar is 24-7. Thousands of vehicles growl along at all hours. And I know it's not my imagination. The few times I've come back from a trip at 3 a.m., vehicles crowd the road. And every single one spews noise.

I'm convinced emergency sirens have not only gotten more frequent and more piercing, but they're sounding more often along side streets at 4 a.m., as if as if there are dozens of vehicles blocking them. Using side streets to dodge thoroughfare traffic became popular a decade ago, but why during certain hours can't a siren be sounded only at intersections to ensure safety?

Then there are the helicopters. Don't get me wrong; I respect what services they provide. But when our neighborhood protested the addition of medevac at Doctors Hospital in the early 1990s, one of our arguments was that this was a residential area -- unlike the immediate surroundings of Memorial Medical Center -- and that the helicopter's roar would be intrusive. We were assured that such flights would be very infrequent. Now there are days I count as many as 10 flights going off.

There's nothing we can do about the Los Angeles-like clogging of our highways. We brought that upon ourselves with the unmanaged growth of the past eight years. That damage is done.

But hopefully spiraling gas prices will dim Californian's obsession with every individual having to have a car and the phobia against mass transit. Those $75 fill-ups do begin to hit the wallet. Maybe sharing a ride or bundling errands into one run will finally make sense.

Couldn't we at least ask our emergency vehicle drivers to exercise a little more consideration with their sirens based upon the time and their location? I appreciate what they do, but I think the noise pollution has gotten way out of hand, and efforts to reduce the racket must begin with all of us.

Newcorn is a Modesto resident. E-mail her at