Thursday, July 12, 2001

Gauging closure's impact to take time, officials say

State shuts Bogardus crossing on Taconic

By Michael Valkys
Poughkeepsie Journal
Darryl Bautista/Poughkeepsie Journal
Chris De Rosa, right, of Sun Up Enterprises, motions motorists Wednesday morning to slow down as workers close the median crossing at Bogardus Lane and the Taconic State Parkway in the Town of East Fishkill.

HOPEWELL JUNCTION -- The Bogardus Lane median crossing on the Taconic State Parkway was closed to traffic Wednesday, the first of six such closures slated for Dutchess County this summer.

But state and local officials said it will take more time to determine what impact the changes will have on southern Dutchess County communities. 

State and local police reported no problems Wednesday as the median crossing closed shortly after the morning commute. Workers were still at the median later Wednesday morning putting finishing touches on barriers -- work delayed by an early morning thunderstorm. Electronic signs alerted drivers that Bogardus was closed and workers installed no U-turn signs at the median as well.

The plan to close the medians -- effectively barring left-hand turns onto or off the Taconic -- followed a fatal accident in late May that some said underscored the dangers of the at-grade intersections.

No accidents reported

Town of East Fishkill police Lt. Douglas Lucy said there were no complaints or accidents reported following the morning rush hour. He said it is too soon to tell what impact the closure will have on local roads.

''Today's the first day, so we don't know yet,'' Lucy said. ''But we will be monitoring it.''

The state Department of Transportation's plan to close six intersection medians has sparked disparate reactions from local officials, drivers and residents who use the parkway and its crossings.

Next up for closure is the Stormville Road crossing, also in East Fishkill, set for Monday.

The safety of the at-grade intersections along the parkway in Dutchess County has been a concern in recent years as traffic on the road has increased dramatically as more people use the highway to commute to and from jobs in New York City and Westchester County.

Proponents of the closures say the median crossings' poor design contributes to fatalities on the parkway.

Opponents counter closing the crossings will increase traffic on local roads and hinder access for emergency vehicles.

Drivers at a Mobil station off Route 82, not far from the Bogardus crossing, were split on whether the crossings should be closed.

''I think they have to do it,'' said Red Hook resident Robert McKeon, who uses the parkway about three times a week to head to New York City. ''Lives are worth saving even if it's an inconvenience to some people.''

''I don't mind going up to the next exit,'' said LaGrangeville resident Irene Jackson, who uses the parkway. ''If it's going to save lives, it's worth it.''

''I think it will definitely make things safer,'' said Hopewell Junction resident Susan Williams. ''My only concern is we may have more traffic here.''

Others said the closings would not only be inconvenient but would choke local roads with traffic.

''I wish they wouldn't close them,'' said Hopewell Junction resident Judy Larson. ''I wish they would figure out how to make them safer, maybe add a turning lane. ... It will be a lot more traffic for those people on those quiet little roads.''

Lane one of least traveled

Of the six crossings, Bogardus is one of the least traveled. And officials say the real impact of the closures likely won't be known until all six are shut, tentatively by the end of August. Traffic is also generally lighter in the summer when commuters are on vacation. Officials will also monitor what impact the closures will have on schools as some districts' bus routes included the median crossings.

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

Officials said Carpenter Road will 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.

Town of East Fishkill Supervisor Peter Idema has suggested the town may challenge some of the closures in court, although he is not opposed to Bogardus being closed. Town officials have hired a law firm and traffic and planning experts to research what can be done to prevent the closures.

Idema, who was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached, has said the town opposes closing the Hosner Mountain, Carpenter Road and Arthursburg Road medians, but that the other closures are ''acceptable.''

The DOT has said most local officials seem supportive of the plan. State DOT officials have met with county and local emergency service providers and state police in the past several weeks as the closing dates neared.

The closures will also cause occasional lane closures on the parkway in the coming weeks in both directions at the six crossing sites, including some Saturdays.

But DOT officials said the closing of the Bogardus crossing did not cause any problems.

''I have not heard of any problems,'' said Ed Goff, project engineer with the DOT. ''We did not expect any problems.''

Traffic volume, design cited

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

All of the medians scheduled to be shut down are between Interstate 84 and Route 55 and none has an overpass.

State officials have labeled the median closures temporary while a study of the entire parkway's future is prepared.

A special task force is working on long-term solutions to safety problems on the 104-mile Taconic, which runs from Westchester County to south of Albany. The plan could be made public this fall.

Under the temporary closures, drivers still can turn right from feeder roads onto the Taconic, but can not cross the parkway.

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

But officials say emergency vehicles would still be able to cross the medians when needed.

The DOT's June 1 announcement on the closures came just days after a May 29 fatal accident at Carpenter Road. The victim 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.