Friday, December 21, 2001

More Taconic medians to close

- State releases 1st of 3 reports - 5 crossings to remain shut

By Michael Valkys
Poughkeepsie Journal
Lee Ferris/Journal
The state Department of Transportation Special Task Force on the Taconic State Parkway announced Thursday that the Skidmore Road median crossing in the Town of LaGrange will close.
Five at-grade median crossings along the Taconic State Parkway in Dutchess County will remain closed and others are slated for closure, according to a long-awaited plan for the highway's future released Thursday. ''I believe the long-term corridor plan will significantly increase safety to all motorists on the Taconic State Parkway,'' said state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Boardman.

The plan to try and balance safety and convenience on the parkway has met with divergent reactions from drivers, town officials and local residents. The recommendations from a special task force came after a number of fatalities at the at-grade crossings over the past decade as the parkway evolved from a bucolic getaway route for New York City residents to a heavily traveled commuter road.

The report released Thursday addressed only the portion of the parkway between Interstate 84 and Route 44. A second report on the parkway north of Route 44 will be released in February. A third report on the parkway south of Route 84 will be released in the spring, state officials said.

Subject of controversy

The closings have sparked heated debate between those who believe they are necessary to save lives and others who feel they inconvenience local residents by cutting them off from stores and adding additional driving time.

State DOT spokeswoman Colleen McKenna said the ultimate guiding factor in the DOT's decision was safety.

''The bottom line is safety,'' she said. ''Our main goal was to make the Taconic a safer road to drive.''

She said the closures will ultimately save lives.

''It already has,'' McKenna said, noting that there have been no serious accidents at the intersections since the closures took place this summer.

''We're confident we are making the right decision for the community,'' McKenna said.

Median crossings already closed include Bogardus Lane, Carpenter Road, Arthursburg Road, Todd Hill Road and Stormville Road.

Crossings and intersections slated for eventual closure include Hosner Mountain Road, Skidmore Road, Mountain Road, McDonnell Road, Tyrell Road and Rossway Road/Drake Road.

''Excellent,'' said Fred Robbins, a Carpenter Road resident, of the state's plans to keep that crossing closed. ''We think the state did the right thing.''

''I think it's great,'' Carpenter resident Elizabeth Deegan said of the median remaining closed. ''I'm very happy about that.''

Deegan and Robbins said they were concerned about the plan to add an interchange or overpass near Carpenter, which they said could increase truck traffic on their road.

Those who oppose the closures have cited an increase in traffic on local roads and the extra time it takes some residents to get to stores and other services in the area since the medians were shut down.

Town of East Fishkill officials had been considering legal action to prevent some of the closures. But one councilman said Thursday the plan -- which includes adding some overpasses -- should help the town, which is split in two by the Taconic.

Councilman Donald Way said the closings have divided the town.

''It seems to pretty well agree with what we have been looking for,'' Way said of the DOT's plan. ''You have got to have one community.''

Just how long it will take to implement the changes and determine how much all the projects will cost remains to be seen.

''It depends on funding and timing,'' East Fishkill Supervisor Peter Idema said of the state's plans. He said the town could likely live with the closures for now, although some adjustments to help ease traffic may be needed.

''The solutions proposed are workable for the town,'' Idema said.

Town of LaGrange Supervisor George Wade III said he was concerned the planned closing of the Mountain Road intersection could harm farmers in the area.

''The only one that really bothers me is Mountain Road,'' Wade said, adding farmers there may be forced to sell land that will no longer be accessible. ''To shut it down completely, there is the possibility of more farms turning into developments.''

Monitoring to continue

State officials said they will continue to monitor traffic on the 104-mile parkway, which runs from Westchester County north through Dutchess County to the Berkshire Spur of the New York State Thruway southeast of Albany.

The state will also monitor traffic on local roads, some of which have had an increase in vehicles since the five intersection medians were closed.

Drivers who used to cross at the closed medians now must go to the next exit north or south and then head back to get where they want to go.

The DOT announced earlier this year six crossings would be closed as a task force prepared the long-term plan to improve safety.

The only remaining median crossing slated for closure earlier this year that remains open is Hosner Mountain Road. That closure was delayed as officials tried to develop a plan that would not cut off residents on the eastern side of Hosner Mountain from local stores and services.

The state recently closed a gas station in the middle of the parkway near Hosner Mountain Road, citing safety concerns.

The plan released Thursday calls for the construction of a bridge across the parkway near Hosner, which officials said is already in the design phase. That project could take up to four years.

McKenna said the DOT will continue to meet with local officials and the public as the various projects recommended by the task force Thursday come to pass.

The task force, formed this spring, is made up of senior managers from the DOT's Albany headquarters, regional DOT personnel, Dutchess County officials and members of the county Legislature.

The temporary median closures prevent drivers from crossing the parkway and from making left turns onto or from the Taconic.

In all, 10 people have died since 1994 at ''at-grade'' crossings along the Dutchess County stretch of the parkway.



The task force charged with making recommendations regarding improving safety at Taconic State Parkway intersections focused on crossings between Interstate 84 and Route 44. The report is the first of a series of three. The task force recommended that the following intersections be completely or partially closed:

Hosner Mountain Road -- Close the Shenandoah service station; close the median and initiate a project to construct a bridge across the Taconic State Parkway.

Carpenter Road -- Permanently close the median. Leave access from both sides of Capenter Road onto the parkway. Add a U-turn for emergency vehicles south of Carpenter Road. Initiate a project to add a protected crossing or interchange. Initiate a project to mitigate traffic that possibly has shifted to other local roads.

Stormville Road -- Permanently close the median and build a pipeline for the local fire department. Create culs-de-sac on both sides of the intersection.

Bogardus Lane -- Permanently close the east side.

Arthursburg Road -- Permanently close the median and proceed with a project to provide an off-ramp at Noxon Road.

Todd Hill Road -- Permanently close the intersection, creating culs-de-sac on the east and west sides.

Skidmore Road -- Close the intersection, creating culs-de-sac on both sides of the Taconic.

Mountain Road -- Permanently close the intersection, creating culs-de-sac on the east and west sides.

McDonnell Road -- Permanently close the median.

Rossway Road/Drake Road -- Remove rock embankment to improve sight distance and close the intersection once alternate access is provided.

Tyrell Road -- Provide alternate access and then close the intersection.

Changes at other intersections

In addition to recommending permanent closures of a number of intersections, the task force suggested the following for Taconic State Parkway intersections between Interstate 84 and Route 44:

Route 52 -- Construct a southbound off-ramp.

Beekman Road -- No changes are recommended at this intersection.

Route 82 -- No additional improvements are recommended.

Route 55 -- Add left and right turn lanes at the Freedom Plains Road (under construction for left turn lane since earlier this fall) and construct a new northbound exit ramp to Route 55 westbound.

James Baird -- No changes proposed to this interchange.

Route 44 -- No changes are proposed to Route 44.