State DOT hears call for lower speed limits

VALATIE–The meeting room in Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building was full Monday morning as representatives from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) met with the Villages of Valatie and Kinderhook and Town of Kinderhook officials and many residents, some from Chatham, to discuss road safety.

Speakers were mostly concerned about state Route 203 where, in December, a 4-year-old was killed in a car accident and several people were injured. There was also discussion of Route 9, where there were two accidents in November that resulted in fatalities. All three accidents happened on roads maintained by the state in the Town of Kinderhook.

“I don’t have an agenda here,” Adam Levine, DOT regional traffic engineer said at the January 29 meeting. He said that he wanted to meet with village and town officials but that Kinderhook Town Supervisor Pat Grattan suggested the meeting be open to residents with concerns. Mr. Grattan and Town Board members Sally Hogan and Tim Ooms were at the meeting, as well as Valatie Mayor Diane Argyle and Kinderhook Mayor Jim Dunham. Several state troopers, local firefighters and county Sheriff David Bartlett also attended.

A resident read a letter for Pamela Strousse, owner of the house with a wooden fence at the intersection of Route 203 and county Route 21B. Ms. Strousse, who could not be at the meeting, wrote, “I’ve lost count of how many times my fence has been hit.”

“What is causing all these accidents?” she wrote, adding that she has hired an attorney and was seeking to have a traffic study done in that turn.

Mr. Levine, who had received a copy of Ms. Strousse’s letter, said the state is considering installation of rumble strips in the middle of Route 203 and on the sides of the road to warn motorists when they are outside their lane.

The road is scheduled to be repaved this spring between the Village of Valatie and the Village of Chatham, according to Tom Story, the DOT’s resident engineer for Columbia County, who was also at the meeting.

Rumble strips would have to be put in when the road is repaved.

“We can take a look at speed limits again,” Mr. Levine said of Route 203 at that beginning of the meeting and repeated a few more times during the meeting, but he also stressed that reducing the speed limit might not solve all the problems on the road.

“It’s not as easy as just changing a sign,” he said.

Kinderhook resident Ed Simonsen, who lives on Route 203, pointed out that the road is “over two centuries old” and that “it’s not engineered for 55.”

“We need to make it safe for 2018,” he said. He and other people, including Mr. Levine, talked about the issue with distracted driving. Mr. Simonsen said that a rumble strip will wake drivers up if they hit it.

“We can’t fix stupid,” Mr. Story said of distracted driving.

“We used to be in the business of reconstructing roads,” Mr. Levine said, referring to his state agency, but he said the funding for road reconstruction is not available anymore. He said DOT now does road maintenance projects like the plan to repave on Route 203.

As the discussion went on, more people asked about lowering the speed on Route 203. Meredith Austin, who lives on McCagg Road, off of 203, said, “It should be 35 mph.”

Kate Austin, on Pinto Ranch Road, who also owns Winding Brook Country Club on Route 203, said that the sightlines from her road were terrible and that people have gotten into accidents leaving the country club parking lot. “It’s just way too fast for the conditions of the road,” she said.

Chatham Central School District Superintendent Salvatore DeAngelo was also at the meeting and talked about the impact on the students in his district after the December accident killed a student in the school’s preschool program. “We are concerned for students safety,” he said of the road conditions.

Other residents talked about seeing the December accident and others accidents throughout the years in front of their houses on the road. And some people brought up other requests they have made to the state to help with the road.

“Let’s act quickly,” Barbara Schneider, who lives on Route 203, said to Mr. Levine. “We all have a common goal.”

Mr. Levine said that there are many requests for the state to reduce speed limits.

As for Route 9, a U.S. route managed by the state that runs through the Villages of Valatie and Kinderhook, and passes in front of the Ichabod Crane School District campus, the State Police at the meeting said they do monitor the road for speeding. They addressed residents concerns about truck traffic through the Village of Kinderhook on Route 9. Both the troopers and Sheriff Bartlett said the trucks are not speeding so officers cannot pull them over.

“If they aren’t doing anything illegal, we can’t stop them,” the sheriff said.

“The law enforcement is doing a superb job,” Mr. Grattan said, noting the job that police do in monitoring the roads and issuing traffic tickets.

State Police Captain Michael Jankowiak of Troop K pointed out that there is also a county Traffic Safety Board that residents can contact. He said it was state officials who asked for this meeting, which he said shows “they are concerned” about road conditions.

The state did reduce the speed limit along the northernmost stretch of Route 9 in the county, dropping the limit from 55 mph to 50 mph last year. The speed limit in front of the Ichabod Crane School is 35 mph.

The head of the school district’s Transportation Department, Dan Doyle, attended the January 29 meeting and asked why there were no school zone signs or a school zone speed limit in front of the school.

Mr. Levine said that if a school has 100% busing program the school does not get special school zones signs.

A Kinderhook resident who lives on Birch Road off of Route 9 talked about the hazards of turning onto the that side road. Mr. Doyle said the district sends a large bus to pick-up students on the road because “not if–but when–it gets rear ended” the large vehicle can absorb the impact.

“It’s a terrible corner,” said the Birch Road resident, who said she sent a letter to the state several years ago about the situation.

Renee Shur, from the Village of Kinderhook, talked about the National Transportation Safety Board’s review of how speed limits are determined in the state, especially using the 85th percentile, which is the speed that 85 percent of vehicles do not exceed. That percentile is used to set speed limits.

Ms. Shur said that the 85th percentile was set in the 1950s before there were cell phones and radar detectors in cars.

A synopsis of the report from the National Transportation Safety Board says, “In general, there is not strong evidence that the 85th percentile speed within a given traffic flow equates to the speed with the lowest crash involvement rate for all road types.”

Mr. Levine said to her at the meeting that the state does use the 85th percentile “but it’s not the only thing we use.”

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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