By Anthony Farmer
Though a report done for the state Department of Transportation 30 years ago recommended eliminating the 22 at-grade crossings on the Taconic State Parkway, the DOT’s overall philosophy has changed, according to the department’s regional director.
Robert Dennison, the DOT’s regional director, told a county legislative committee this week that the old report was done before new state environmental regulations were established and before the department had to be concerned with public reaction.
‘‘In 1969, we went in knowing the answer; we don’t do it that way any more,’’ Dennison said. ‘‘We don’t come in and do what we want to do, the rest be damned.’’
Some residents have urged the state to close all road-level crossings on the Taconic, saying that they are unsafe.
Traffic problems possible
Others argue that closing the crossings would create traffic problems on other local roads, significantly slow emergency personnel who need to cross the Taconic, and inconvenience residents and businesses.
Town of Clinton resident Chris Cordisco, Manhattan resident Jody Morrison and a few others have sought help from the county Legislature in recent months to get the crossings closed. Morrison’s 15-year-old daughter, Chelsea Morrison, was killed earlier this year when the car in which she was riding was struck as it was crossing the Taconic on Hibernia Road in the Town of Clinton.
With the number of commuters using the four-lane, winding state parkway increasing in recent years, the call for increased safety also has grown. Many acknowledge the intersections have grown more dangerous over the years.
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.
The county Legislature’s Public Works/Transportation Committee arranged for the DOT to be at Thursday’s meeting.
During the meeting, Jody Morrison said the time for looking at options and weighing public input are over.
‘‘If any action was taken on any of the studies done in the last 30 years, my daughter would still be here,’’ she said. ‘‘How long are we going to keep studying and looking at this?’’
Some of the crossings have been closed, and some have been replaced with overpasses or interchanges. The DOT plans to eventually eliminate all of the parkway’s at-grade crossings but the process has been slow because of the costs involved.
Dennison did point out that the Miller Hill Road crossing in East Fishkill was replaced with an interchange in just three years from the time the project was drafted. The ‘‘unified community outcry’’ resulting from a bus accident at the intersection prompted the project, he said.
But there are considerations — from retaining scenic beauty to the impact of traffic on nearby roads — that the DOT has to consider, Dennison said.
Legislator James Hammond, R-Town of Poughkeepsie, asked if signs could be posted warning motorists of the upcoming crossings and asking them to turn their headlights on, until the problems with the crossing are more appropriately addressed. Dennison said he would look into it.
Cordisco said anything short of closing all of the crossings on the Taconic is not enough. He blamed the town governments in East Fishkill, LaGrange, Pleasant Valley and Clinton for opposing the closure of the crossings.
‘‘The DOT is being held hostage by four towns in Dutchess County,’’ Cordisco said. ‘‘We have to limit the input of these towns.’’
But Dennison said his department tries to be sensitive to all the factors involved.
‘‘These things have to be considered together and have to be considered in an orderly way,’’ Dennison said.