State OKs East Chatham traffic light

CHATHAM–The state Department of Transportation has approved a plan to put traffic lights and one-way signage on the Albany Turnpike Bridge in East Chatham. The announcement was made last month and released last week.

The state has been reviewing the plans for almost two years and the town received funds through the office of state Senator Kathy Marchione (R-43rd) in 2016 towards the cost of the project.

The bridge goes over train tracks owned by CSX. According to Chatham Town Supervisor Maria Lull, the Town Board signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the rail company in 2013 to rebuild the bridge “at no cost to the town in exchange for the town’s assumption of ownership and maintenance responsibility of the bridge upon completion.” The town has yet to take ownership of the bridge.

This aerial view of the bridge over the CSX railroad tracks on Albany Turnpike at the intersection with state Route 295 in East Chatham is from a concept proposed by the town’s engineers in 2015. The state has now approved traffic lights at each end of the bridge as a way to improve safety at the bridge and the nearby intersection. Image contributed

After CSX replaced the bridge in early 2014, making it a single-lane crossing, residents came to the Town Board with concerns about safety issues. The replacement bridge reduces sight lines, making it difficult to see oncoming traffic. Drivers were also worried that the approach to the bridge could cause a back-up of traffic onto state Route 295.

Plans were subsequently developed to redesign the intersection and the board held meetings at the East Chatham Firehouse to discuss how to move forward.

In January 2016, town Highway Superintendent Joe Rickert announced that the town had received a $100,000 grant through Senator Marchione’s office. At that time, he said the whole project would cost about $180,000 and he hoped the work would get started in June of that year.

Plans for the traffic lights were sent the state by the town’s engineer. Mr. Rickert and other supporters of the change in the intersection, especially Adelle Kleiman-Levine, came to the board asking about the progress of the plan. This fall, Ms. Kleiman-Levine wrote a letter to the state about the slow process of the approval and the dangers posed to cars going over the bridge.

At the November 2017 Town Board meeting, Chatham Town Attorney Sal Ferlazzo said that he was discussing the bridge issue with CSX and that he hoped to have meeting at the state about the plan.

According to Ms. Lull, Mr. Ferlazzo is currently negotiating with CSX counsel for reimbursement of costs to remediate the problems caused by the bridge, which was designed and created by CSX. “Until the matter is resolved, the town has refused to accept legal ownership of the bridge,” she wrote in an email to The Columbia Paper.

In her statement to The Columbia Paper, Ms. Lull also wrote that the memorandum of understanding with CSX “does not purport to identify or address all the issues, terms and conditions related to the bridge. While it provides that ownership and maintenance of the bridge was to be transferred to the town on ‘completion and acceptance of the work,’ there is a disagreement between the town and CSX as to whether the work was completed per plans or accepted. Moreover, the MOU confirmed that the parties intended to address remaining issues in separate written agreements. No such separate written agreements were ever signed.”

She wrote that with the state’s approval of the plan for the light, “the town will be in a position to attempt to complete its negotiations with CSX.”

Mr. Rickert said in a phone interview that he, along with Ms. Lull and Town Budget Officer Tammy Shaw, are meeting with the town’s engineers next week. He said the town still needs to meet some qualifications from the state and apply for permits to do the work. But he said he’s “pushing our engineers” to get construction bids out by March of 2018.

The next Town Board meeting is Thursday, December 21 at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall on Route 295.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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