By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY January 3, 2006 The NYS Department of Transportation is making special concessions for tractor trailers in a roundabout way.
Since construction began on the new roundabout in Liberty where a number of driveways, roads and an exit from Route 17 all meet up, the plan has always been to ensure tractor trailers can make it through to service the businesses in the downtown district.
Brian Doak, a design supervisor with DOT, said the roundabout is a heck of a lot safer than a traffic circle and its been designed so the largest vehicles can navigate the turns.
Even if they want to make a 360-degree turn, they can do it, he said. On the inside circle of a roundabout, theres what they call a truck apron.
Tractor trailer drivers can run up on that apron, he said, to navigate the new road.
But Liberty Supervisor Frank DeMayo has heard an earful from some business owners who have had trouble getting their deliveries since the roundabout was built.
Hes heard the tractor trailers just cant make it around.
But I know from day one when they were showing us the plans, gosh I guess two years ago, DeMayo said, that rise is for tractor trailers.
I guess the question that begs to be asked is, Do the truck drivers know that?
If the state is making a move toward implementing roundabout-style construction on highways, maybe they should have sent out information on them to anyone with a commercial drivers license (commonly known as a CDL), said DeMayo.
Howard Braunstein of the M&M car dealerships on Mill Street in the village said the suppliers coming in with the long car carriers and even the smaller tractor trailers loaded with parts arent aware of any special concessions.
Is there a problem? he asked. The answer would be an unequivocal yes from my staff.
When a car carrier gets off Exit 100, theyre at the corner of the roundabout, Braunstein explained.
They have to maneuver a massive vehicle around a tight curve to get into the roundabout, then turn again to get into town and head up Mill Street to the dealership.
As a business that provides towing services, Braunstein said theres an additional worry that the narrow roundabout will be impossible to navigate if a car breaks down.
An emergency vehicle responding to a crash or a tow truck attempting to hook up to a broken-down car in at least one section of that roundabout is going to have a major problem, he said.
I havent seen it yet, but one day a car is going to break down, and its going to snarl traffic in both directions, Braunstein noted.
So far, he continued, hes had a few near misses driving through the roundabout in his personal vehicle at nighttime.
Personally, I think its very dangerous, he said.
Cars shoot in and out of the various parking lots, and no one has a clear idea of who has the right of way, he noted.
Scott Evans of Callicoon Center drove a 74-foot moving van for 30 years, and hes taken a look at the Liberty roundabout.
That thing stinks, he said matter-of-factly.
Growing up in New Jersey, traffic circles were a common sight in his youth.
But no more.
They eliminated those things 20 years ago in New Jersey, he said. They were the largest cause of accidents on Route 23 where I grew up ... people got killed and maimed daily.
Evans said his truck was likely over-length, but the fact is, most trucks are.
Its the nature of the beast, he said. Its all about money the bigger the truck, the more you can carry.
His truck, he said, would have to go up on that truck apron.
At least they put bricks there instead of grass, Evans admitted.
But, the biggest problem, he said, will be snow removal.
If snow builds up there on that thing which they dont plow, which they wont because its 5 feet above the road . . . its never a good idea to drag a trailer through snow when you dont know whats under it, Evans explained.
Then you factor in the extra traffic thats coming into the roundabout from the other inlets cars a tractor trailer driver cant see.
People pull out, and they dont know what to do; indecision causes accidents, Evans said.
This particular roundabout is supposed to alleviate a long-standing problem thats existed with the Route 17 exit, the driveway to both the Catskill Beverage store and the Eckerd Plaza, Willow Lane and the end of South Main Street all meeting up at almost the same spot on Mill Street.
There are a number of reasons the DOT is building roundabouts in Liberty, Doak said.
Number one is safety.
While highway designers are moving away from traffic circles, roundabouts, a much smaller version, are increasing in popularity across the country.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, roundabouts have improved traffic flow and decreased injury-causing accidents by as much as 75 percent compared to intersections controlled by traditional stop lights.
People have been confusing the new construction in Liberty with a traffic circle, and Doak said there are major differences.
In essence, the size is a big difference, he said. A traffic circle tends to be larger and tends to accommodate traffic by creating gaps in the traffic.
But because of the larger size, traffic circles with a number of lanes generally cause drivers to speed up rather than slowing down (the original purpose), Doak said.
The increased speed, combined with motorists trying to weave in and out of lanes, has been blamed for causing more crashes.
But roundabouts, he said, really do help alleviate the problems.
Theres no weaving of traffic in a roundabout, Doak explained. They go smaller, and it slows people down.
As for the problems people are experiencing now, Doak said work is not complete on the Liberty roundabout.
In fact, another roundabout is scheduled to be constructed this year where Mill Street intersects with Route 55 near Ideal Snacks.
And a final layer of pavement added to the truck apron should help tractor trailer drivers maneuvering through the roundabout near Exit 100.
They might feel like theyre tipping over because they dont have that final layer of asphalt, Doak said.
That is scheduled to be done this construction year as well.