Saturday, August 25, 2001

Crossing closure divisive

1 Taconic link left to be blocked

By Michael Valkys
Poughkeepsie Journal
Kathy McLaughlin/Journal
Department of Transportation employees Russell Mulkins, on ladder, and Frank Bednarchak uncover Friday morning the no left turn sign by the southbound lane of the median at Carpenter Road.
HOPEWELL JUNCTION -- It was a bittersweet irony for the family of Loretta Roberts, who would have turned 64 Friday had she not been killed in an accident in 1994 at the Carpenter Road intersection of the Taconic State Parkway.

State officials closed the Carpenter median crossing Friday, the same day Roberts' family placed a memorial ad in the paper in honor of their loved one's birthday.

''It's her birthday and then to see that,'' Cheryl Carter, Roberts' daughter, said of Friday's closure. ''It should have been done a long time ago.''

Carpenter is one of six at-grade intersections being closed by state officials in response to safety concerns. The temporary median closures bar drivers from crossing the parkway and from making left turns onto or from the Taconic.

Tena Futrell, Carter's sister, said she couldn't believe the crossing closed on her mother's birthday but added it was fitting.

''I think it's wonderful,'' Futrell said. ''It's a godly thing. It's a happy day.''

Carpenter Road is the fifth intersection to be closed as the state Department of Transportation continues to work on a long-term plan to improve highway safety. Hosner Mountain Road in East Fishkill will be the last median closed, although no specific date has been set. State officials have said they hope to close that median crossing within the next two weeks.

The closures have sparked divergent reactions from area residents. Supporters of the closures say they are necessary to improve safety and help save lives along the parkway. The highway has seen dramatic increases in traffic over the past decade as more people use it to commute to work in Westchester County and New York City.

Opponents say the closures are an inconvenience that add time to commutes and cut residents off from local stores and services.

Perhaps nowhere is the issue as divisive than on Carpenter Road, where some residents have vocally lobbied for the median crossing to be closed while others have campaigned to keep it open.

Closure elates some

Carpenter resident Fred Robbins was one of about 25 people along the parkway Friday to celebrate the closure.

''We're very happy,'' said Robbins, part of a group known as RESCU, Residents Embracing Safety over Convenience United. ''This is great. We think it's the right thing to do.''

Robbins said the group has submitted a petition with the signatures of 400 residents who support the closure.

But not everyone was celebrating Friday.

Casper Barcia also lives on Carpenter Road -- and is as vehement in his opposition to the closing as Robbins is in his support.

''I've got to use circuitous routes to get in the village for everything we go for,'' said Barcia of trips to the bank, grocery store or pharmacy. ''It's going to be a problem.''

The plan to close the medians followed a fatal accident at Carpenter Road in late May. Supporters of closure said the accident underscored the dangers of the at-grade intersections.

Others argue driver error rather than the crossings' design is the main cause of accidents on the road.

Town of East Fishkill officials have voiced their concern over some of the closures and have hinted at legal action to try and block them.

School bus routes will also be affected by the closings.

One Arlington High School senior said the closures will mean he will have to get up earlier to drive to school.

''It's probably going to be about 15 more minutes,'' said LaGrangeville resident Adam Francese of his drive to school.

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 multiple 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.

Along with the Carpenter closing, the state has already shut median crossings at Bogardus Lane, and Stormville, Todd Hill and Arthursburg roads.

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.

The DOT's June 1 announcement on the closures came only days after a May 29 fatality 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.

Family's pain still fresh

For Roberts' family, the pain of their mother's death is still fresh seven years later.

Doreen Henry, another of Roberts' daughters, said she was happy to see the Carpenter crossing closed.

But she was also upset it took so long.

''I'm glad to see it closed,'' Henry said. ''But it's a little too late.''

Roberts, a popular teaching assistant in Poughkeepsie, and Florence Pinnock, 61, an assistant nurse in the city schools, were killed on May 21, 1994, when an ambulance heading south on the parkway collided with their car.

Logging on

The Poughkeepsie Journal published a special project examining the dangers of Taconic State Parkway intersections. It can be found HERE