Thursday, May 31, 2001

Short-term fixes to Taconic woes near

Fatal crash heats up crossings debate

By Anthony Farmer
Poughkeepsie Journal

HOPEWELL JUNCTION -- The death of a Connecticut woman Tuesday on the Taconic State Parkway has prompted state officials to immediately address persistent safety concerns about parkway intersections.

An announcement on temporary remedies, pending completion of a more comprehensive review, is imminent, a state Department of Transportation spokesman said Wednesday.

Madhu Nigam, 51, a resident of Cheshire, Conn., was killed Tuesday evening when the car she was riding in -- headed west on Carpenter Road across the Taconic -- was hit by a sport utility vehicle heading south on the parkway, according to Thomas Maher, senior investigator with state police Troop K. She was transported by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital and pronounced dead at 7:40 p.m.

Accident-prone area

It was the latest in a string of serious crashes on the Taconic in Dutchess County. It was the third fatal crash -- and Nigam is the fourth person to die -- at the Carpenter Road crossing since 1994.

Advocates of closing the controversial ''at-grade'' crossings on the Taconic turned up the heat on state Department of Transportation officials.

Earlier this year, DOT Commissioner Joseph Boardman appointed a task force to review safety concerns and suggest remedies along the entire length of the Taconic. The task force was expected to have a report ready by fall.

''Early next week, hopefully, we'll be able to inform the public of what we think can be done relatively quickly,'' DOT spokesman Michael Fleischer said Wednesday afternoon. ''By implementing some of these short-term measures, we can look at what are, in fact, the local impacts as we continue to look at the longer-term issues.''

Quick route for vehicles

Opponents of closing the crossings have argued closing them would keep emergency vehicles from getting where they're needed quickly. Several towns and local residents who live along the parkway also have opposed closing the crossings because of the potential for increased traffic on side roads.

''It's time for DOT to just make a decision,'' said Sgt. Robert Hogan, traffic supervisor for Troop K and a member of the Dutchess County Traffic Safety Board. ''We have to prevent people from crossing the parkway.''

Nigam's husband, Chaitanya, 54, was driving the car and suffered internal injuries, police said. He was taken to Westchester Medical Center Tuesday and was in fair condition Wednesday, according to the hospital.

The driver of the SUV, Hopewell Junction resident Anthony Spinella, suffered no significant injuries but one of his two children riding in the car, a 10-year-old, suffered a seat belt bruise, police said.

Maher said Spinella had his right turn signal on as he approached Carpenter Road. State police are continuing to investigate the accident, which occurred about 6:20 p.m.

Dawn Beverly, 29, of Wappingers Falls, was killed April 29 when her car was struck trying to enter the southbound lane of the Taconic from Pumpkin Lane, on the border of the towns of Stanford and Clinton.

Lawmakers call for closing

Assemblyman Pat Manning, R-East Fishkill, and Sen. Steve Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, each called Wednesday for the immediate closing of the Carpenter Road crossing -- the second most dangerous in Dutchess, according to a DOT report -- until a permanent solution is found. If that happened, eastbound traffic on Carpenter Road would still be able to turn on the Taconic southbound and westbound traffic on Carpenter would be able to enter the parkway and head north.

Saland said Boardman on Wednesday assured him the DOT would consider all alternatives regarding safety measures that could be immediately implemented.

''It's time for a plan that won't languish on a shelf somewhere but will be put into effect,'' Saland said, alluding to a DOT report from the early 1970s that recommended closing all at-grade crossings on the Taconic.

Manning said some action must be taken until a long-term solution can be found and put in place. And the state must move quicker on finding that long-term solution, he said.

''We can't sit and study this any longer,'' Manning said.

Hogan said breakaway barriers could be placed at the crossings, which would still allow emergency vehicles to get across. Fleischer confirmed that is one of the options being considered.

The 104-mile highway runs from just south of Albany to near New York City, including the entire length of Dutchess County. There are 20 intersections on the Taconic in Dutchess where vehicles can cross or enter traffic without overpasses or ramps.

From September 1996 to August 1999, there were 7.9 crashes per million vehicle miles at Carpenter Road, according to a state DOT report. The statewide average for similar crossings is 1.03 crashes.

Several Carpenter Road residents have pushed for the breakaway barriers to be installed on the Taconic crossings. If one had been in place, Tuesday's accident could have been prevented, Hogan said. 

''Forming task forces are a step in the right direction but in the meantime too many other things can happen,'' said Lynn Robbins, who lives on Carpenter Road, a half-mile west of the Taconic. ''I feel they have been dragging their feet.'' 

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