Janesville77°

Vibrations are bringing down the house

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GINA R. HEINE
June 1, 2008
— The foundation on Terry and Gina Schmidt’s home is crumbling with each passing truck.

The century-old, Victorian-style home on Highway 11 near the county line suffers mini-earthquakes each time a large truck passes, leaving the condition of the home close to uninhabitable, Terry Schmidt said.


“It’s definitely our dream home that’s been taken away from us,” he said.


The home at 16939 Highway 11 sits 48 feet from Highway 11 and about 3 feet below the grade of the road. It was built when automobiles were just starting production.


The deteriorating foundation could force them to tear down the house, he said.


Schmidt blames an increase in truck traffic that started with the 2002 opening of the Highway 11 bypass around Janesville.


The Schmidts have filed their second lawsuit against the state Department of Transportation, seeking $265,000 in damages to rebuild or to move their house as a result of the increased traffic. Their lawsuit states it would cost up to the value of the home to repair the damage.


A Rock County judge dismissed their first lawsuit last year, and the state denied their new claim in February.


A Rock County Court hearing on the new lawsuit has not been scheduled.


Schmidt said he realizes that people might think he’s just trying to get money out of the state.


When the couple bought the home in 1998, the stone and mortar foundation was impeccable, he said. Then the Highway 11 bypass opened about 14 miles east of the home, and semi traffic got “unbelievably bad out here,” he said.


They started noticing foundation cracks and popping stones. Then a wall collapsed.


Two sets of engineers agreed they had a problem caused by vibrations from the highway. Seismic studies showed their foundation was suffering mini-earthquakes everyday, he said.


The impact, engineers told him, is just below the level of blasting dynamite.


But their homeowner’s insurance wouldn’t cover the damage because it doesn’t cover earthquakes, they were told.


The house now sits on jacks, and the family has spent about $20,000 in repairs to twice rebuild the foundation. More repair is needed or the family will be forced to move into their barn, which has been renovated to include a living area.


“We’ve been making repairs for six years, now, to watch it turn around and happen again,” Schmidt said.


Contractors estimate it would cost $50,000 to pick up and move the house or to put a special foundation under it, he said. But that would leave the problem of the broken house—cracked walls and chimney, snapped trusses and other damage.


The couple contacted the DOT when problems started, and conversations between the parties seemed hopeful, Schmidt said. The state told them asphalt would be added to the highway in front of their home during bridge improvements—part of the bypass project—a half mile west of their home, he said.


But it never showed up.


State engineers conducted more than two weeks of studies on the vibrations at the home, but once the state realized the extent of the problems the vibrations were creating, Schmidt said communication stopped.


When asked about the Schmidts’ situation, a state DOT official said the department could not comment on pending litigation.


While highway improvements could have helped prevent problems, Schmidt said the highway still is unsafe because it can’t handle such a high volume of traffic. The Schmidts report two fatal accidents within a half mile of their home—one in their front yard.


The new bypass has made Highway 11 the main thoroughfare from Milwaukee to Iowa, and it’s a designated oversize route, so wide-load, heavier traffic comes through at night, he said.


The family is hoping the lawsuit can bring the money needed to make their home livable without constant repairs or to build a new house.


“I realize the need for the highway, but we don’t understand why we have to take such a loss to benefit … whosever benefiting from it,” he said.


“They should not have routed so much heavy truck traffic on such a small highway without taking more precautions.”



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