EDITORIAL: Great agency gets it wrong

A TREE, MAYBE 15 FEET tall, stands at the intersection of Route 295 and Main Street in Chatham. Its low branches form a leaf ball dense enough to shade the lawn just two years after it was transplanted there. The tree may cause someone’s death at that intersection, possibly mine.
Its leaves block the view of northbound traffic at that heavily trafficked spot. There is no crosswalk, but it’s the place where pedestrians traveling to and from the village center cross the highway, because (chickens, please note) it’s the shortest route to the other side and no barrier stops them. Someday a pedestrian will look left and won’t see the vehicle behind the leaves. It would take minutes to prune or remove this tree.
The state Department of Transportation planted the tree as part of an effort to improve the safety of the intersection. The DOT has tried for years to come up with a sensible plan acceptable to the village and CSX Transportation, the railroad that crosses the intersection. It offered the village several costly and disruptive options. When residents rejected them all, the department turned its attention elsewhere. Now it’s focused on “fixing” an intersection in the Town of Stuyvesant.
To the residents of Ferry Road, a 1,600-foot lane that runs from Route 9J to the banks of the Hudson River, the DOT must seem like an undertaker dropping by to make some measurements… of them. But they expected it. Several years ago an administrative law judge required the department to come up with a plan for improving the safety of the Ferry Road intersection, which, like Chatham’s crossing, involves railroad tracks.
In Stuyvesant, like Chatham, the DOT has suggested a series of options running from doing nothing to wiping Ferry Road and its handful of historic homes off the map. Other options suggest building a bridge over the tracks, which would undoubtedly involve talking to Alaskan politicians, or rerouting a state highway. Why not offer to convert the tracks into a rail trail or redirect the Hudson River several miles west while they’re at it?.
But wait. What was that first option again? Doing nothing is called the “No Build” alternative. In other words, a government agency is offering to refrain from meddling in a situation where there’s no clear problem and most of the solutions–like tearing down the homes of private citizens–should never happen. They’re ridiculously expensive engineering daydreams dressed up to pretend the DOT has lots of good ideas, when the list of Ferry Road alternatives makes clear that it doesn’t.
Is it any wonder that Stuyvesant residents, when given the chance to choose, picked No Build as one of their preferred options followed by a simple a stoplight at the crossing. (Those who like the stoplight might want to check with Chatham and ask DOT whether it can install the lights for less than a million bucks.)
This exercise by the DOT has become an affront to the taxpaying citizens of Ferry Road and the rest of the state. It’s a disservice to the rest of the Department of Transportation, too. We can’t function as communities or a state without the DOT. It maintains thousands of miles of roads and bridges, and all of us depend on the skills and integrity of the people who work for the department.
The DOT is right to acknowledge that a potential exists for a terrible accident at Ferry Road. That’s possible at every grade crossing. But it only tarnishes the reputation of an essential agency of state government when it threatens citizens with the loss of their homes as if that form of intimidation were routine procedure.
This intersection already has standard safety features and to date no history of accidents. So why did the DOT cite vehicle collisions with deer as “proof” the intersection is dangerous? Was that misleading or simply careless? Either answer is no credit to the department unless, of course, one of its safety alternatives envisions human “deer whisperers” stationed at the intersection.
The pattern that emerges from Chatham and Stuyvesant is a failure of leadership at the Department of Transportation. Resources are being squandered on over-planning big solutions to relatively small problems. Apply those resources instead to the dangers we know we face rather than ones that might occur.
The DOT should back off in Stuyvesant. Go with what the people want. While they’re at it, there’s a tree of their that needs attention.

Comments are closed.