Chatham pores over plan for bottleneck

EAST CHATHAM–The Town Board moved its monthly meeting to the East Chatham Firehouse last week to get feedback on proposed designs to slow traffic on the Albany Turnpike Bridge. The bridge, also known as the East Chatham Bridge, was reopened last year and residents have come to the board over the last few months with concerns about poor sightlines and safety on the one-lane span.

The board passed a motion at the March 19 meeting to move forward with a temporary solution that  will use town Highway Department employees to close off what one resident called “short cuts,” to the bridge entrance on the side that intersects state Route 295. The goal is to create a 90-degree, or “T”, intersection where Albany Turnpike meets Route 295. The town will use cones, road surface striping and cement brackets to close off the short diagonal ramps that that now funnel traffic on and off the state highway.

The temporary solution will cost about $4,500 and creating it will interrupt traffic on the bridge for four to five hours, according to the Highway Superintendent Joe Rickert, who attended last week’s meeting.

“For that amount of money we should go ahead and do it,” Councilmember Maria Lull said at the meeting.

A more elaborate, permanent plan that could cost as much as $75,000 would involve removing pavement for the diagonal ramps. The permanent project also includes completing the pedestrian walkway on the bridge. One resident at the meeting called it “the walkway to nowhere” and another talked about how the walkway is blocked so that pedestrians have to climb over a guard rail when crossing the bridge and navigate around a utility pole on the path.

Tom Baird, from the town’s engineering firm, Barton and Loguidice, said that it was a battle for the town to get CSX Transportation, the railroad company that owns the tracks beneath the bridge, to replace the bridge. “Even getting the walkway that is on the bridge was a fight,” he said at the meeting.

Town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt said that CSX paid the $1.3 million it cost to replace the bridge and that allowed the company to make the design decisions. He also said CSX not yet formally transferred ownership of the bridge to the town.

Mr. Baird showed the 20 or so residents at the meeting the plans and also discussed designs for a T intersection across the street on County Route 9 as cars exit Route 295.That project, Mr. Baird said, would cost between $150,000 and $250,000.

“I’m not certain the town is hell bent on doing anything on that side of the street,” Supervisor DeGroodt said.

Mr. Baird said that neither intersection had a history of accidents. He also said there might be state funds for the project.

“By doing the temporary [plan] we will see if it’s going to help,” said Councilmember Henry Swartz.

Mr. DeGroodt said that the board would put a survey on the town’s website about the permanent plans for both intersections.

The other discussion at the meeting concerned a hardship letter filed with the town about the Life Serve Tennis Camp plan on Thomas Road. Plans for the camp were in front of the town’s Planning Board but were withdrawn after the Town Board adopted a moratorium on development along the town’s dirt roads; Thomas Road is unpaved.

The moratorium adopted by the town is scheduled to last for 12 months as the town’s Zoning Implementation Committee (ZIC) finishes its review of town zoning laws. But Adam Slone, who filed the plan for the camp, has requested a waiver that would allow his project to go ahead despite the moratorium. The moratorium permits exemptions due to a hardship, with the Town Board determining what constitutes a hardship.

Representatives from the Thomas Road Conservation Alliance (TRCA), whose members oppose the project, were at the meeting to ask why the Town Board was considering a public hearing on the Life Serve waiver request when Mr. Slone hadn’t proven hardship. Town attorney Tal Rappleyea said that the public hearing is the forum where the applicant can present the case for a hardship waiver. The board set the public hearing for 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 31 at the North Chatham Firehouse.

Karen Murphy, TRCA president, also asked why the ZIC meetings were closed to the public. Mr. Rappleyea said the committee agreed to keep its meetings closed because it helps with the flow of conversation, but he stressed the minutes are online on the town’s website.

Ms. Murphy pointed out that closing the meetings violates the state Open Meetings Law, since there are six town officers on the ZIC (two Town Board members, two Planning Board members and two Zoning Board of Appeals members).

Mr. Rappleyea said there was not a quorum of the Town Board on the ZIC.

Mr. Swartz, who sits on the committee, said he would “feel out” the board about opening in the meetings.

The next regular town board meeting is Thursday, April 16 at the Town Hall.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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