Lawmakers urged to help shut crossings
By Anthony Farmer
In 1970, a report done for the state Department of Transportation recommended eliminating 22 at-grade crossings on the Taconic State Parkway.
Fourteen years later, Chelsea Morrison was born.
Earlier this year, Morrison, a 15-year-old Millbrook School student, was killed when the car in which she was riding was struck as it was crossing the Taconic on Hibernia Road in the Town of Clinton.
Last week, the girl’s mother asked Dutchess County lawmakers to step in and help get every at-grade crossing on the parkway closed.
Officials and residents acknowledge the intersections have grown more dangerous over the years, as traffic has increased on the north-south route.
‘‘Nobody will listen about the Taconic, nobody in Dutchess County will listen,’’ Jody Morrison, a Manhattan resident, said after the Legislature’s meeting Wednesday. ‘‘It goes around in circles and circles and circles. Everyone says we’re looking into it.’’
The Taconic has no shoulders. Drivers’ view of the road is often hindered by trees, hills and turns. The call for improved safety has grown louder over the past few years, as the number of commuters who use the Taconic increased.
Some of the crossings have been closed and overpasses have been built, but constructing an overpass at every intersection would be extremely expensive. Simply closing intersections would limit access for local residents, farms and businesses.
Morrison and some local residents who advocate closing the at-grade crossings said they have contacted state lawmakers, the governor, state transportation officials and others — and are dissatisfied with the response.
A Poughkeepsie Journal study done earlier this year of intersection accidents on the four-lane parkway found more than 300 crashes, and nearly as many injuries, from January 1994 to March 1999. Eight people, including Chelsea Morrison, have died at a Taconic at-grade crossing in the last five years.
After Morrison’s presentation, county legislators said they would see what they could do.
Legislator James Hammond, R-Town of Poughkeepsie, said lawmakers would refer the matter to county traffic officials and invite DOT representatives in to discuss the situation.
‘‘We certainly can give this issue the attention it deserves,’’ Hammond said.
The DOT plans to eventually eliminate all of the parkway’s at-grade crossings, but action has been slow. In the interim, the state is installing highway lighting and a blinking light to warn drivers of the upcoming crossing.
‘‘We’ve got a program to address it and we’re doing that so we are able to program them with the funds that we have,’’ said Purdy Halstead, assistant to the regional director for the state DOT. ‘‘We would prefer to have a much more extensive program, we just can’t. We have to stay within the program we were given.’’
Transportation funds for state roads are divvied up around the state. The Taconic must compete with other projects and concerns for funding.
Business owners object
Plans to close the Hollow Road crossing have been met with resistance by business owners in the Town of Clinton. Doing so would cut off a major artery into the town’s business district, said Walt Kuhn, president of the Clinton Business Association.
But Kuhn admits the crossings are dangerous.
‘‘If they were to stay the same as they are without being improved, they probably should be closed,’’ he said. ‘‘They should upgrade them instead of closing them.’’
Town of Clinton resident Chris Cordisco commutes along the Taconic and sees near crashes virtually every day, he said.
‘‘We need action now before more people are injured or killed,’’ he said to county lawmakers.
Cordisco’s son, a Rhinebeck middle school student, was riding on a school bus involved in an accident while crossing the Taconic at Nine Partners Road in May. There were no serious injuries.
Rhinebeck school Superintendent Joseph Phelan said the crossing was not used regularly along that bus route. As a result of the accident, the district told the bus company to no longer carry students across one of the at-grade intersections.
‘‘We’d rather have them take a little bit more time going around,’’ Phelan said.