What’s that annoying buzz? PennDOT considers daytime construction after noise complaints

The Center City viaduct revamp is one of just nine projects continuing through the pandemic.

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Maybe you heard it. That annoyingly audible buzz coming from who knows where at 1 a.m. It’s the hum heard round Center City, from Rittenhouse to Logan and even Point Breeze, caused by overnight roadwork on the Schuylkill Expressway.

Now, PennDOT is looking at whether it can move construction to the daytime because of how many noise complaints the department received.

After being disturbed in the wee hours Tuesday morning by what he called “the world’s loudest leaf blower,” Rittenhouse resident Martin Schneider went out to find the source of the racket. “It’s like an entire city block decided it was time to vacuum,” he said of the sound.

In a couple videos posted to Twitter, Schneider uncovered jackhammers were to blame.

PennDOT spokesperson Brad Rudolph confirmed to Billy Penn that the workers were out that night. The construction, on I-76 between I-676 and University Avenue, is one of just nine state road projects deemed crucial enough to continue during the coronavirus pandemic, Rudolph said.

Work began on the project last April, then paused early autumn for plan revisions.

“Therefore,” said Rudolph, “the operation that began Monday night was the first activity to take place in several months.”

Schneider wasn’t the only Philadelphian to notice.

“[U]nconscionable for the city to be allowing this,” wrote one Twitter user. “No sleep for 2 nights now.”

“Talk about noise pollution,” wrote another. “The construction work (?!) is so loud, a bunch of our neighbors went outside because it sounded like a tornado siren.”

One social media sleuth took a stab at the sound’s source: “What is this humming noise in South Philly? Sounds like a vacuum cleaner through a P.A. system that’s a few blocks away. Just my guess,” they wrote.

Rudolph said the department is looking into solutions.

Work on the project is currently scheduled to happen between 9 p.m. and 5 p.m., like it did late Monday into Tuesday morning, and again Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. But the pandemic slowdown could actually allow that to shift.

“Due to the decrease in traffic volumes on I-76 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the department is analyzing the feasibility of potentially performing construction and closing a lane on I-76 during the day,” Rudolph said. That determination should arrive in the coming weeks, he said, adding that even with diminished car traffic, “a daytime lane closure on I-76 will impact travel.”

Monday night’s sound came specifically from jack hammering on the westbound left lane of 76, Rudolph said. He added that the construction is moving west for now, which should offer a reprieve for residents disturbed by construction at the east end of the project. Watch out, University City.

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