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DOT off key on highway

If a quirk in a newly paved road creates a distracting noise, is it a safety hazard?

That is the question at the crux of the Singing Highway — that stretch of Interstate 95 northbound between Exit 91 in Stonington and the Rhode Island state line that, since being paved last fall, has emitted a strange wailing sound whenever cars pass over it.

The state Department of Transportation attributes the noise to the roller method used on hot asphalt in cold weather, according to an article this week by Erica Moser. A DOT spokesperson maintains this effect will diminish in warmer temperatures.

This is news to the dozens of people who have driven over that stretch and concluded that something was wrong with their vehicle. In response to a Day inquiry, they reported stopping on the roadside, returning home, even paying for car repairs they didn't need.

DOT, which made no effort to inform the public about this situation until asked for comment, maintains the state cannot erect signs warning motorists because the sound is not a safety concern, and therefore fails to meet sign standards set by the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways.

To this bureaucratic response, we say: Balderdash.

First, if motorists are pulling over on an interstate highway that creates a safety issue. We seriously doubt the Federal Highway Administration would argue the point.

But there are other ways around this.

The manual allows electronic messaging signs for many purposes. Among the 11 categories are "warning situations" and "lane, ramp and roadway control." These signs announce everything from Amber Alerts to traffic congestion.

Federal law also enables states to grant permission "to erect and maintain information displays which may be changed at reasonable intervals by electronic process or remote control" that "provide public service information" or promote activities on the property on which they are located.

In other words, advertising. If DOT could find a publicly spirited sponsor, the Singing Highway would fall under the category of "public service information."

Given that some have compared the pavement's noise to the call of whales, Mystic Aquarium might be a likely candidate.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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