Leni Santoro | Democrat
NYS DEPARTMENT OF Transportation Public Information Officer Dave Hamburg explains the proposed changes to the state-owned Route 17B.
Study seeks changes on 17B; forum held
By Alix Didrich
BETHEL The New York State Department of Transportation recently held a public meeting to discuss findings from an ongoing study being done on a fifteen-mile stretch of Route 17B from Fosterdale to the village of Monticello.
Project manager John Fitzgerald from the New York State Department of Transportation District’s Region 9 office in Binghamton was on hand along with with traffic engineer Marc Sergeant and public information officer David Hamburg to explain the results from the Route 17B Corridor study.
Three detailed maps of the 17B corridor, almost 7 feet in length were available, both in the hallway leading to the meeting room and on both sides of the meeting room itself, so that concerned citizens could better understand the identified problem areas and potential solutions. Both before and after the meeting, Fitzgerald, Sergeant and Hamburg made themselves available to explain the key areas of the map and to define the specific issues addressed by the study.
A growing corridor
The study took into account that to date there are 60 proposed residential projects and 700,000 square feet of commercial development tentatively scheduled for the Route 17B corridor. There is an additional potential for 3.5 million square feett of commercial development and room for 2,500 more residential units. This makes for an inevitable increase in traffic issues.
The main objective in studying the corridor, according to Fitzgerald, was to identify realistic improvements that could be made to enhance safety, put together a Task Force to work with the affected townships and improve traffic capacity issues with solutions that are economically feasible. He stressed that, “These are potential solutions. They are not on our capital program [to be done.]”
During the powerpoint presentation, Fitzgerald went over each highlighted point on the map discussing traffic volumes, accident rates, potential improvements and projections to assess what the area might look like in thirty years.
Impact of bethel woods
As in most parts of Sullivan County, traffic volume issues in the 17B corridor are seasonal. The study found a direct correlation between Bethel Woods’ events, both religious and secular camp departures and arrivals and second homeowners increased traffic volumes during the summer months.
The burden of responsibility falls in different areas. One example given was that of Bethel Woods, a significant contributor to added traffic volume near Hurd Road and Happy Avenue. It is expected that similar venues would contribute to projects in their area that may be designed to keep traffic moving. According to Fitzgerald, the racino is also required “to mitigate their own projects.”
Fitzgerald recommended overhead cue directors like those found on heavily traveled bridges like the Tapanzee for these areas. Depending on which way the heavier flow of traffic is expected overhead arrows designate the number of lanes available for travel in that direction. The devices would be permanent.
No widening planned
The study did not show a widening of the Route 17B corridor to be feasible at this point in time. “You will not find a long term solution to widen Route 17B, it is just un-feasible and cost prohibitive,” said Fitzgerald. Instead installing traffic signals, turn lanes and access management were thought to be better options.
Access management is a tool that potentially helps alleviate increased traffic congestion by having development areas, both residential and commercial, utilize one access area instead of several entrances tying up traffic in a specific area. This would be something that a community task force could work on helping towns and villages incorporate it into their comprehensive plans. Sullivan County Planning Board has offered to help develop a task force.
Nine of the sixteen area intersections in the study were found to have accident rates higher than state average. These included Pine Grove road (which recently installed a new traffic light) and Coopers Corners Road. Both have an accident rate higher than two times the state average. Recommendations to add turn lanes to Pine Grove Road and possibly move Coopers Corners Road eastward or install a left turn lane were suggested.
Developments to spur new streets?
Other improvements to be considered were adding new streets in areas that development was the most likely, installing an Intelligent Transportation System (EZ Pass, closed circuit TV and new signal controllers are examples of ITS), and a permanent traffic recorder for continual monitoring of traffic growth.
Several citizens expressed concerns after the presentation, which were welcomed by Fitzgerald. “That's why we are here, to become aware of issues that we might have overlooked,” said Fitzgerald. He encouraged everyone present to fill out a comment sheet and either e-mail, fax or mail it to the Binghamton office as part of the final step of the study.
Citizens expressed concerns about the varied speed limits within the fifteen-mile stretch of road. Speed limits vary greatly and it was [pointed out] that discrepancies in travel speeds can actually increase accidents. Fitzgerald stated that speed studies would be done.
Eliminating Kitz Road was one of the suggestions labeled on the map. It was pointed out that this road is heavily used as an access to Swinging Bridge Reservoir. Fitzgerald had an assistant writing down different concerns and added it to the list.
Bob Rosaengard talked about problems associated with Airport Road, including issues with the Millennium Pipe trucks that need to make very wide turns causing potential traffic issues. Due to the amount of time it takes for the trucks to turn, those present felt it created a dangerous situation. “We just found out about it but we plan to look into it,” Fitzgerald said.
Quality of life issues
Jonathan Hyman brought up the fact that quality of life in the densely populated area of Smallwood had not been considered. Three hundred homes have been proposed with 177 of those already approved. “Sticking a traffic light or an extra turn lane is not going to do much for the quality of life [in Smallwood],” he stated. A proposed county jail near Airport Road brings up other issues due to sight distance limitations. Fitzgerald promised to take a long hard look at the problems.
David Goodstein compared the Route 17B study to that of the 1973 Parksville Bypass Committee which “even after forty years has failed to come to fruition.” Fitzgerald announced that the Parksville project would indeed be moving forward in 2009 to the tune of $115 million.
Fitzgerald closed the meeting with further encouragements to contact the District 9 office in Binghamton with any other concerns related to this study. To see an overview of the report go to www.nysdot.gov/17bstudy.