RIO — The worst of the noise, says Robert Kronberg, comes in the early morning.
That’s when streams of motor vehicles, many of them carrying Columbia County residents to their jobs in Dane County, rush by the town of Hampden home, near Rio, where Kronberg has lived for more than 70 years.
The rumble strips, which Columbia County Highway Department workers installed on County Highway C in December, live up to their name, according to Kronberg. The noise is so incessant, he said, he had to take his wife to an emergency room for treatment of high blood pressure.
Not even a stack of nine straw bales in front of his house muffles the noise, he said — although a recent snowfall, which filled in the cracks in the rumble strips, did offer some relief.
Robert and Karen Kronberg, and two other people who live on Highway C, told all this and more to the Columbia County Traffic Safety Commission during its quarterly meeting Friday.
They want the rumble strips removed.
“You’re just ruining our lives,” Robert Kronberg said.
Columbia County Highway Commissioner Chris Hardy said they were installed to alert motorists to the stop sign at Highway 60.
Ryan Mayer, traffic safety engineer for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said there have been five crashes at highways C and 60 since 2011, including three in August 2016. Two of the crashes involved fatalities.
Hardy said there are several county roads where rumble strips have been installed, because studies show them to be effective in warning inattentive drivers to slow down for an upcoming intersection. They also are cost-effective, Hardy said, requiring about two hours of work from a highway crew to install them.
Hardy said the same stretch of Highway C used to have rumble strips, but they weren’t put back in after road work in 2007.
Robert Kronberg said the old strips weren’t as close to his house as the new ones are, nor were they as numerous or as deep.
A Jan. 24 letter from Karen Kronberg, copies of which were presented to commissioners on Friday, said Robert Kronberg counted 36 rumble strips in 25 feet of road, with grooves as deep as 1.75 inches.
Hardy said the grooves may indeed be too deep — and the way to remedy that would be to wait for warmer weather, so highway crews can access the type of road repair material to partially fill in the grooves. He said the asphalt “hot mix” used at this time of year to fill cracks and holes wouldn’t be effective and would just be carried on the tires of passing vehicles to other locations.
Hardy said he wants the Traffic Safety Commission to provide direction to the Columbia County Board’s Highway Committee, not just for how to address the concerns about the rumble strips on Highway C, but also about whether rumble strips should be part of the county’s strategy for making roads safer.
Janice Bennett, a neighbor of the Kronbergs on Highway C, said she thinks “less intrusive” safety measures — such as “STOP AHEAD” signs, flashing lights and pavement markings — should be tried before rumble strips are installed.
A letter she wrote to Mayer on Friday, shared with commission members, said she, too, experiences “unacceptable” noise from the rumble strips, which are close to her home.
According to Hardy, highway crews monitored the decibel levels from the rumble strips, and found no significant difference between the noise of traffic on the highway’s surface and on the rumble strips.
That didn’t satisfy Bennett, who said the noise is especially pronounced when she’s outdoors.
Brock Graber said the new rumble strips are directly in front of his house and mailbox, and since their installation he and his family have experienced rattling windows and “unreasonable sleep deprivation.”
Commissioner Robert Andler — who lives on Highway 60, not far from the intersection with Highway C — suggested a four-way stop.
It would be unlikely, Mayer said, for the transportation department to determine that traffic patterns in the area warrant a four-way stop. However, adding a flashing light to the stop sign might help improve driver attentiveness.
Hardy noted the Kronbergs offered to pay for an illuminated stop sign for the intersection — but if the offer were accepted, the highway department would have to maintain the sign.
The commission’s recommendation to the Highway Committee — which is expected to take up the issue on Thursday — is to fill in the Highway C rumble strips as soon as the proper material is available, and see if that alleviates the noise concerns.
Michael Brouette, a physician assistant who represents the medical community on the commission, asked the neighbors what they would say to the family of someone whose traffic death might have been prevented with the presence of rumble strips.
Safety on the roads, Hardy said, is his principal concern — and it’s a matter of Columbia County policy, not just an issue on Highway C.
“If something happens,” he said, “the lawyers come around, and we need to tell them why we do what we do.”