It’s not your car: What’s causing that strange sound on I-196

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A strange sound on a busy section of the highway in Kent County has some wondering if they need to take their car to the repair shop but the Michigan Department of Transportation says there is no reason to be concerned.

The portion of highway is I-196 between Fuller Ave and Maryland Ave.

John Richard, an MDOT spokesperson, says the sound is coming from the pavement and will not cause any harm to your ride.

“I’ve heard people describe it as whale song,” Richard said. ”Typically asphalt is laid down in the summer, in the warmer months, but when it’s laid down in the colder months. That’s because a lot of our projects went off schedule this year so when it’s laid down in the colder months this texture these little grooves, they stick around a lot longer.”

The sound will get quieter as more traffic moves over the surface.

“Overtime that will smooth out, but in these cold temps that texture really kind of solidifies and it really stands out and it makes this humming noise,” Richard said.

The sound can vary depending on the lane a person is in and the vehicle someone is driving.      

“It could depend on different tire tread patterns too that will make a big difference as far as the noise so if you have a bigger tire, smaller tire that will make a difference in the noise,” Richard said.

While MDOT typically paves in the summer this year many projects were delayed.      

“This project went through December so a lot of our projects were kind of a little bit late this year especially this one. I think all lanes opened up two days before Christmas so when this payment was laid down it was pretty cold out so that texture remained just because of the cold temps,” Richard said.

A portion of I-96 that was repaved in 2019 also had the same issue. In some cases, the sounds can last for years.

“Once the temperatures pick up that will decrease overtime. However, the section on I-96 near Leonard from a couple years ago still makes a bit of that noise but it has diminished overtime quite a bit,” Richard said.

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