ANCRAM–Everyone involved agrees the intersection of state Route 82 and county Route 7 in the hamlet needs to be fixed. The only thing missing is a plan for how to do it.
The town’s Intersection Advisory Committee met for a second time February 16. Columbia County Commissioner of Public Works David Robinson attended along with County Engineer Dean Knox and 50 or so interested residents of Ancram and vicinity.
Most of the discussion focused on the east half of the intersection: the left turn from County Route 7 (coming from Copake) onto Route 82 headed southeast (to Ancramdale) and the right turn from Route 82 onto County Route 7 headed northeast.
According to Mr. Robinson, GPS units routinely send unsuspecting buses carrying skiers to Catamount and campers driving their Winnebagos or towing their motor homes headed to Copake campgrounds to that intersection.
Drivers headed northwest on Route 82 are then directed to make that dreaded sharp right turn on the steep uphill grade onto County Route 7.
Many at the meeting recounted how all kinds of large vehicles–buses, tractor trailers and campers–have succumbed to that corner, bottoming out or getting hung up across the intersection, with the guardrail in front of the Stiehle house on one end and the unmanageable incline and sharp turn on the other.
Drivers coming from the other direction headed southwest on County Route 7 trying to turn left to head southeast on Route 82 face not only a line of sight impeded by a concrete wall just south of the Tinsmith house, but also a limited turning radius.
The problems are longstanding and about two months ago, the county and Mr. Robinson became involved at the urging of Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin. The county Board of Supervisors has approved the purchase of the Tinsmith house, a dilapidated structure on the northeast corner of the intersection, and the .15 acres that go with it for $31,750. Buying the vacant house would allow the county remove it and improve the intersection. But at the meeting last Thursday night, Mr. Robinson said that some degree of improvement could be achieved at the intersection without buying or disturbing the Tinsmith house.
Mr. Robinson said he is in the midst of ongoing talks with state Department of Transportation (DOT) “trying to get their interest” in sharing the work needed on the intersection with the county. He described a plan for removing the concrete wall and grading back the bank just south of the Tinsmith house. The state would ultimately have to sign off on the plan because the work area is within the state right-of-way.
Mr. Robinson has met with a surveyor and reviewed deeds and data that document property lines in the center of the road. Joseph Hoyt, a lifelong Ancram resident who owns both the crumbling former Porter’s Store, just east of the Tinsmith house, and the Ancram Hotel, just east of that, maintained that the state does not have the right of way it thinks it does and he has legal documents to prove it.
Donna Hoyt, Joseph Hoyt’s wife, asked whether there is a better way to improve the intersection. Mr. Robinson said that the best solution to deal with all of the intersection’s “skewed roads” would be a roundabout, but there is not enough property there to build one.
Mrs. Hoyt suggested that now was the “perfect opportunity” to commit to more than the “easy” improvement and noted a willingness to work with the county should the need arise for some of the Porter’s Store property. “We might never have that opportunity again,” she said.
“Do it right or don’t do it at all,” Mr. Hoyt added.
Jack Lindsey asked Mr. Robinson to keep in mind the need for improving the sight distance for drivers looking west up Route 82 from County Route 7. Mr. Robinson said later in evening, that a project to improve the west side of the intersection would be a separate undertaking.
Mr. Lindsey also mentioned getting DOT to reduce the speed limit through the intersection to 25 mph from the current 35 mph.
Speed limit reductions come through a request of the Town Board, said Mr. Robinson, but if a driver can’t see, slower speed may not make a difference.
Mr. Robinson wondered aloud about the merits of convincing DOT to install a traffic light to replace the blinking light there now. Someone noted that a loaded tractor trailer coming up the Route 82 hill from the Ancram paper milll would not have the ability to start up again if it had to stop at an intersection red light if the roads were slick.
Ancram Fire Chief David Boice said his measurements indicate that 21-feet of a municipal snow plow hang out into the intersection before the driver can see whether anything is coming. Someone said “that’s why the cannon looks the way it does,” referring to the war monument in the small triangle in front of Simons General Store.
While some called for the project to include taking down the Tinsmith house and significantly cutting back the embankment the house sits on, the Ancram Preservation Group (APG) is interested in seeing both the Tinsmith and Stiehle houses remain intact as critical parts of town history. The group, which restored the Simons General Store and is currently in litigation with the Fire District over ownership of the Stiehle house, had an engineering study done on the Tinsmith house, which concluded that the county would not have to remove the house to make necessary intersection improvements.
The report also notes that the house might be saved if measures, which will cost $20,000, are taken.
Mr. Robinson asserted that he was not interested in making intersection improvements a small project, but rather one that will solve the problems.
Moisha Blechman told the group that to make the most drastic intersection improvements will create “a sea of asphalt,” which will cause the hamlet to “lose its feeling of a town.” She suggested doing the lesser amount of carving back, “then see where you’re at.”
Mr. Robinson made a summary presentation of the committee’s discussion at the Town Board meeting that followed and noted that he will continue his meetings with DOT. “We just need a plan which addresses the greatest amount of problems,” he said.