Jun 01, 2011 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Following a brief presentation last night at the Camillus Municipal Building gymnasium on the West Genesee Street paving project, County Department of Transportation Commissioner Brian Donnelly planned to have residents speak one-on-one with county representatives.
But Camillus residents had something else in mind – a public forum.
One man protested, “I think we’d like to talk,” and gestured toward the microphone.
What followed was a range of questions from concerned residents regarding the proposed changes to West Genesee Street. The county DOT has proposed narrowing the road from four lanes to three over two stretches – from 400 feet east of Whedon Road to 400 feet east of Hinsdale Road and from Knowell Road to the village line – in an effort to make the road safer and more efficient. The new configuration would include a two-way left turn lane with a travel lane on each side.
Greg Archambeau was the first to approach the microphone.
“Why wasn’t the town of Camillus involved in this plan?” he asked.
Donnelly said the current plan is preliminary. “The whole purpose of having the meeting tonight is to solicit comment from residents.”
“I disagree,” Archambeau said. “I think you should have brought in the town of Camillus.”
In his presentation, Donnelly said feedback from residents would be incorporated into the project’s design “to make sure we have a project that is positive and works for the community.”
Lee Ecker, an engineer with Clough Harbor & Associates, the consulting firm hired by the county for the project, outlined the benefits of a three lane configuration with a two-way left turn lane. He said the setup allows drivers to focus on one lane only, making for fewer blinds spots and conflict points; reduces excessive speeding and aggressive driving; offers the left turn lane as refuge; and offsets opposing traffic. Ecker also said the three lane configuration would improve traffic flow by reducing delay.
But many residents were concerned that the lane changes would create additional safety hazards for drivers.
“Right now people can move over; there’s so much traffic at certain hours,” said Chris Isgar, Fairmount Fire Department’s deputy chief. The Fairmount Fire Station is located on West Genesee Street directly across from Camillus Town Hall.
“At least when we’re responding,” he added, “[drivers] can move over to the right, like state law says, and we can get through safely.”
Isgar said that with the proposed three lanes, drivers of emergency vehicles would be forced to move into the center left turn lane to pass other vehicles, “creating head-on situations.”
“If there’s an accident, we’re gonna have to shut down all of West Genesee Street,” he said. “Right now we can take one lane and shut it down and make people go around.”
Camillus Chief of Police Thomas Winn was concerned for the safety of residents of neighborhoods that border West Genesee Street.
“Onondaga County DOT has made little effort to determine the impact to our local residents that attempt left hand turns from residential areas onto West Genesee Street,” Winn said after the meeting. “Traffic safety is a top concern of the Camillus Police Department. It is questionable whether the current plan as proposed by Onondaga County will achieve a positive result relative to vehicular and pedestrian safety within the Town of Camillus.”
Tim Stepien, a city of Syracuse police officer who lives on Dunning Drive in Camillus, questioned the county’s accident report analysis that led to the proposed lane changes.
“It’s so ridiculous,” he said, adding: “It’s a cookie-cutter approach.”
According to the county DOT, there have been more than 100 accidents within the last three years on the two segments of West Genesee Street that would be changed from four to three lanes. Ecker said most of those accidents were rear-end collisions involving turning vehicles.
“That led to the introduction of the left-hand turn lanes,” he said.
Stepien said a tally of the accidents was not a sufficient analysis.
“You gotta know what the contributing factors were, which for the majority of accidents are human involvement. That’s not gonna change,” he said. “People are still gonna hit each other from behind. They’re still gonna be impatient and turn in front of people. You can’t improve that. You can improve the road design, but this isn’t a proper redesign.”
Ecker also said the same change was made to East Genesee Street in Dewitt in 2005. He said the proposal was met with skepticism from residents, but turned out successful.
“Just because it worked in Dewitt doesn’t mean it’s gonna work here,” Stepien said in response. “It’s a whole different environment.”
Cheryl Hevier, owner of Kings Gate West Apartments and Greater Camillus Chamber of Commerce board member, felt the changes would hurt local businesses.
“I can’t believe that this would be good for business at all,” she said. “We’re doing fine the way it is. If this went into effect, I can’t help but think that traffic would be routed onto Hinsdale [Road], perhaps, and then what are you gonna do with the added traffic on Hinsdale? People would avoid some of those businesses.”
Camillus Town Councilor Dave Philippone sent the following comments to project manager Christopher Rauber following Tuesday night’s meeting:
“Residents, regardless of purported traffic studies, prefer the current lane format based upon comments made at the May 31 public hearing,” Philippone wrote. “Please respect the wishes of the taxpayers and reconsider the matter.”
In a post to his blog, www.Camillusfirst.com, Philippone encouraged residents to contact the county by the deadline for public input, June 10.
“One of my concerns is that the argument can be made, those 300 or so people who showed up, represent only a small percentage of the town’s population. Any criticism may be dismissed as the extreme minority viewpoint,” he wrote. “As such it is in your best interest, if you have a viewpoint, [to contact the county ASAP].”
Letters regarding the paving project should be sent to: Mr. Christopher Rauber, Civil Engineer, Onondaga County Department of Transportation, 11th Floor, Civic Center, Syracuse, NY 13202. Comments can also be emailed to email@example.com.
The design of the West Genesee Street paving project is scheduled to be completed by October 2011, with construction starting in spring of 2012 and finished by fall 2012. The project’s budget is estimated at $5.5 million, with 80 percent funded federally, 15 percent covered by the state and the remaining 5 percent funded by Onondaga County.