Tormented by after-hours Brooklyn Bridge construction, Brooklyn Heights residents make their own noise
Twenty-three stories below Roberto Gautier’s apartment at 140 Cadman Plaza West in Brooklyn Heights, the noise begins at 11 every weeknight.
Jackhammers, drills and repetitive beeps from construction vehicles continue until 6 a.m., roughly 30 minutes before Gautier and his wife Elissa must get up for work — though the couple wakes several times during the night from the racket.
“With sleep deprivation, it’s similar to Abu Ghraib or some sort of torture,” Gautier said with a dry chuckle. “We’re high-value targets.”
For the last few years, near-nightly rehabilitation construction on the Brooklyn Bridge has left Gautier and other tenants of the building restless. The Department of Transportation’s mitigation efforts have failed, residents say, and many worry there is no end in sight.
“We want the bridge to be repaired,” Gautier said. The 67-year-old language tutor and cheesemonger uses the bridge himself, after all. “The point is that before this project started, there was very poor planning.”
There are 250 apartments in the co-op. Shortly after the noise began, residents formed a Peace & Quiet Committee, which Gautier runs. Since July 2012, the committee has organized petitions to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, asking for the department to stop work and institute noise and air quality controls.
“We’re not receiving any sympathy from the city officials,” Gautier said.
Coordinating with the Department of Environmental Protection, the DOT has taken steps to reduce noise, an agency spokeswoman said. Construction workers are use smaller jackhammers, for instance. Decibel levels are also recorded and DOT staff are on hand to “respond as needed.”
“Multiple layered sound blankets and rigid sound enclosures also are used around each work zone to contain noise from construction equipment,” Nicole Garcia, the spokeswoman, said in an email.
But this does little to remedy the problem because “noise travels up,” said Arline Bronzaft, an environmental psychologist who has advised four administrations, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on noise.
In 2007, Bronzaft helped rewrite the city’s Noise Code, which Garcia insisted the project is operating within.
Though Garcia noted applications for after-hours work are “carefully reviewed,” Bronzaft said the city should have more closely examined how the community’s health would have been affected before approval.
“Sleep is needed to repair the body, it is vital that you have periods of rest,” Bronzaft said. “Anything that’s stressful is going to cause wear and tear on the system.”
In the middle of the night, Gautier’s wife wakes with heart palpitations — just one of many side effects from sleep deprivation, according to Bronzaft.
Chronic noise causes high blood pressure, fatal heart attacks, obesity and impaired childhood development. Both noise and sleep deprivation also put pressure on relationships and affect concentration.
“My doctor is becoming concerned and suggested I move,” said Leslie Arlette Boyce, a photographer and dancer who lives on the seventh floor of the building. “If I could, I would.”
Bronzaft questioned why the project was approved for after-hours work. Garcia, the DOT spokeswoman, did not elaborate but said that projects are reviewed “with a focus on balancing the impacts of nighttime construction on surrounding communities with traffic impacts on those same communities.” Full closures would displace vehicles going into Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn, she said.
Earlier this month, Gautier rallied outside the building with other residents and Councilman Stephen Levin, hoping to put pressure on the DOT.
“We’re asking that DOT reassess the situation and that they do everything they can do to as much work as they can when it’s not the middle of the night,” said Levin, who represents the building in City Council. Levin noted that drivers can find alternate routes during all-day weekend bridge closures.
“You have to make sure you’re creating a balance,” he said.
The DOT said the project is currently scheduled to be completed next spring, but Gautier and other residents are skeptical.
Officials were unable to provide an estimated completion for the project during a DOT Working Group meeting last month, said Gautier, who serves as a representative on the group.
“It’s like a case of two versions of reality,” he said.
Gautier is hoping the issue will gain traction from Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, whose efforts focused citywide attention on nearby Long Island College Hospital’s financial difficulties.
“We’re hoping the new mayor, the new administration, will be able to put themselves in our beds,” he said.
From her bed around 10:30 p.m. each weeknight, Boyce hears the scrape of metal against metal from the construction site below her window.
“They’re unlocking the fence, dropping the chains to the ground and that’s it,” she said. “You start shaking, like, ‘Here it comes…’”
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