Traffic at intersection worries residents
By Elizabeth Lynch
HOPEWELL JUNCTION — Some residents of Carpenter Road fear it will take a serious accident to get the attention of transportation officials.
Carpenter, which is maintained by Dutchess County, is a well-traveled route used by commuters heading to the Taconic State Parkway. As southern Dutchess’ population increased, traffic on the once-quite country road also grew, especially during rush hour.
One recent morning, Carpenter resident Lynn Robbins counted 25 cars following slowly behind her son’s school bus, which has to cross the parkway. Her neighbor Jeff Mayer said cars often are stopped in the left lane of the parkway, waiting to turn onto Carpenter.
‘‘It’s getting brutal,’’ said Mayer, who occasionally takes the Taconic for his commute to Danbury, Conn. ‘‘The opportunities to cross the Taconic are getting fewer.’’
The Taconic, a scenic, four-lane highway that runs from Westchester County north to Columbia County, has drawn attention from the state Department of Transportation. As its use as a commuter highway increased, the DOT closed some intersections and improved others. The department is studying ways to further improve safety on the road.
‘‘We have seen a tremendous increase in traffic,‘‘ said Barbara Amos, who has lived on Carpenter for nearly 20 years.
A group of residents who live on or near Carpenter on the west side of the Taconic State Parkway worry improvements to a nearby bridge over the Fishkill Creek will attract more traffic to their road.
Carpenter is one of the parkway’s remaining at-grade crossings. Some of those who live on the west side of the parkway want to see the intersection closed, believing that’s the only way to address safety concerns. They said they are worried about their children because the school buses must cross the parkway.
Not only is there more traffic on Carpenter, but it’s also faster and there are more accidents, according to residents.
They said cars have landed in their front yards and their mail boxes have been knocked over.
But closing the at-grade intersections at Carpenter and other spots along the Taconic in Dutchess County has been opposed by some residents and officials. They say the intersections are needed to provide access for emergency vehicles and to avoid long school bus routes for those who live on the east side of the parkway.
The state DOT plans to eventually eliminate all of the parkway’s at-grade crossings. While plans for Carpenter have not been finalized, the state’s proposal is to build an overpass and eliminate access to the parkway, said Richard Peters, DOT regional planning and program manager.
The Carpenter Road overpass has been included in the $34 billion state transportation capital plan, according to Sen. Steve Saland, R-Poughkeepsie.
‘‘Building an overpass at Carpenter Road would provide continued access to these areas without jeopardizing the safety of motorists,’’ said Saland.
Assemblyman Patrick Manning, R-East Fishkill, said he supports the Carpenter Road residents’ position.
‘‘I’m for closing that down because I think it would be safer in the long run,’’ he said. ‘‘With the amount of people (moving into Dutchess), we’re just not prepared to deal with these issues.’’
East Fishkill town Supervisor Peter Idema said he is sympathetic to the residents’ concerns but opposes closing the entrance to the Taconic from Carpenter. If Carpenter were closed, traffic problems would simply shift to other roads that are also seeing increased numbers of cars, he said.
‘‘We do not need more traffic on Beekman nor any more traffic through the hamlet of Hopewell,’’ he said. ‘‘Before you close off one access, you have to have a plan.’’
The town is in the process of updating its master plan, a document to guide future development in the municipality. The town would like an overpass built at Carpenter but with access to the Taconic maintained, Idema said.
The state believes nearby Beekman Road and Route 52, which intersect with the Taconic and have overpasses, can handle the additional traffic that would come with the closing of Carpenter.
An overpass ‘‘should reduce some of traffic,’’ said Peters.
Warning lights installed
To deal with concerns on a short-term basis, the state is making improvements at Carpenter and the parkway, installing highway lighting and a blinking light to warn drivers of the upcoming intersection, said William FitzPatrick, the DOT’s director of traffic engineering and safety.
Carpenter is the most dangerous of the parkway’s intersections. There were two fatal crashes at the intersection between 1994 and 1999. Three people were killed. During that time frame, there were a total of 48 crashes in which 72 people were injured — the most along the Taconic, according to traffic statistics.
Residents along Carpenter said the interim measures do nothing to reduce traffic on their road.
And they said commuters headed for the Taconic will lose Carpenter as an option when the bridge project starts. The bridge on Carpenter Road over the Fishkill Creek was built in the 1940s and needs to be replaced, said Dutchess County Commissioner of Public Highways Paul Cassillo. He confirmed that during the construction, the road would be closed.
The $450,000 project is not expected to begin until summer 2001. The project will restore the bridge’s weight limit to 45 tons. It had been downgraded to 19 tons because of the needed repairs, Cassillo said.
The county endorsed the residents’ request to have the speed limit lowered on Carpenter, but that proposal was rejected by the state, Cassillo said.
‘‘I realize there’s a problem on Carpenter Road,’’ said Cassillo. ‘‘Unfortunately Dutchess County is growing, and part of the problem with growing is increased traffic. People have the right to use the road. I don’t know how you stop them.’’
Idema said the town is increasing its police force to 24 members and plans to crack down on drivers who speed and ignore stoplights and signs.
‘‘Do we need people to slow down? Yes we do,’’ said Idema. ‘‘It’s not a quiet country road anymore.’’
Many Carpenter Road residents remember when it was.
Linda Moore, who lives on nearby Val De Mar Road, which intersects with Carpenter, said her husband used to have a paper route and frequently would bike across the Taconic.
Today, Moore won’t let her 16-year-old son drive across the intersection.
The Wappingers school district has been, for the most part, responsive to their concerns, the residents said. The district has configured the route and its stops so children don’t have to ride the bus back and forth across the Taconic, resident Fred Robbins said.
‘‘We thought (crossing the Taconic) was more dangerous than to have them walk in front of the bus,’’ Robbins said.