Wednesday, June 27, 2001

4 Taconic links to close in July

E. Fishkill crossings 1st to shut

By Michael Valkys
Poughkeepsie Journal

Median crossings at Stormville Road and Bogardus Lane in East Fishkill will be closed the week of July 9 -- the first of six Taconic State Parkway intersections targeted for closure, according to state transportation officials.

Following another death last month on the parkway, officials Tuesday announced a timetable for the temporary closure of the crossings to improve safety.

Electronic message signs were to be placed along the highway Tuesday to inform drivers of the coming changes, according to state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Colleen McKenna.

The week of July 23 will see the Todd Hill and Arthursburg Road medians in LaGrange closed. The final median closures at Carpenter and Hosner Mountain roads, also in East Fishkill, are set for mid-to-late August, McKenna said.

Proponents of the closings, first announced as an option on June 1, say the crossings are unsafe because they require drivers to cross the busy parkway to make a left turn. Opponents argue closing the crossings will increase traffic on local roads and hinder the access of emergency vehicles. 

''That's very positive,'' said Carpenter Road resident Lynn Robbins of the pending closures. ''I'm glad they will go through with it.'' 

Robbins said she would have preferred that Carpenter be closed first, but she was glad it will be shut down later this summer.

''We are most definitely in favor of the median closing,'' she said.

Plan has critics

The plan is not without critics and the most vocal may be the Town of East Fishkill, where officials have hired a law firm, traffic and planning experts to research what can be done to prevent the closures.

''We'll see,'' Supervisor Peter Idema said Tuesday on whether the closures will take place, or face a legal fight. ''We intend to oppose it.''

But McKenna said most officials with whom the DOT has met seem supportive of the plan.

She said the department has met with county and local emergency service providers and state police. The DOT also sent letters to elected officials and school district leaders in the affected communities to inform them of the pending changes and hope to meet with more local leaders this week.

''It seems the community is behind it,'' McKenna said, adding that other safety improvements have been tried over the years. ''We just came to the conclusion that this is the only thing that's going to work right now.''

State police are also behind the plan.

''We will support the DOT in anything that they do,'' said state police Sgt. Robert Hogan, traffic supervisor for Troop K, which includes Dutchess County.

Transportation officials have said their decision to close the medians was based on the high volume of traffic at the intersections and their design, which require drivers to cross lanes of traffic on the Taconic to turn left.

All of the medians are between Interstate 84 and Route 55.

Concerns about the safety of the intersections -- which do not feature overpasses -- have increased over the past few years as traffic on the Taconic has increased as well.

The parkway, which runs from Westchester County to south of Albany, has evolved from a bucolic scenic route into a busy commuter road for those who head south to jobs every day.

A special task force is working on long-term solutions to the Taconic's safety problems, and a plan could come together by this fall, officials said.

Under the temporary closures, drivers still would be able to turn right from feeder roads onto the Taconic, but they could not cross the parkway, officials said.

Also, no left turns would be allowed from the Taconic on to the affected roads.

But McKenna said emergency vehicles still would be able to cross the medians when needed. She said ''Safe Lane'' barriers will be installed with raised curbing that heavy emergency vehicles can pass over unscathed, but which might cause problems for regular-sized cars.

The DOT's June 1 announcement on the closures came after the latest fatal crash on the 104-

mile parkway, which occurred May 29 at Carpenter Road. Madhu Nigam, 51, a resident of Cheshire, Conn., was killed when the car she was riding in was hit while trying to cross the parkway. She was the fourth person to die at the crossing since 1994. Ten people have died since 1994 at ''at-grade'' crossings along the highway in Dutchess County.

In response to the public concern over safety, DOT Commissioner Joseph Boardman announced earlier this year he would appoint a task force to review safety concerns and suggest remedies along the entire length of the Taconic. The task force is expected to have a report ready by the fall.

McKenna said Carpenter Road was selected to be closed last because Dutchess County is doing bridge work on the road. 

Carpenter will be open only to local traffic until the bridge work is completed in August, officials said.