ANCRAM—You’d think that after a few decades of wrangling with the state Department of Transportation (DOT) over everything that’s dangerous and wrong with the Ancram hamlet intersection and getting only meager corrective action, the Town would give up.
But here we are in 2021, 35+ years after this reporter started covering Ancram and County Route 7/State Route 82 intersection issues and town residents and officials are still at it.
Perhaps “slow and steady” will win the race—like how a driver needs to travel to make it safely through the intersection.
The latest development in this saga is the town’s receipt of a four-page memo, dated July 30, from the DOT that basically chronicles numerous requests and suggestions made by townspeople for ways to improve the intersection and the reasons why DOT won’t do any of them.
The DOT memo comes in response to several months of back-and-forth between the Ancram Hamlet Planning Group, town officials and residents and, ultimately, a Zoom meeting which included all interested parties, a DOT representative and Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th).
The memo starts out with a description of the intersection and says “a review of the most currently available three-year crash history was conducted (January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2020) at the Route 82 and CR 7 intersection. A pattern of crashes was not found at this intersection.”
The memo lists a dozen items that have been suggested as ways to improve the intersection such as: the installation of a four-way stop sign; the installation of a stoplight; lowering the speed limit to 20 mph for the hamlet; the installation of “Hidden Driveway,” “Dangerous Intersection” or “No Engine Brake” signs; reconfigure the triangle in front of Simons General Store; and the improvement or addition of sight distance, sight lines, angle of intersection, traffic signal pole, turn radius, sidewalks, crosswalks and/or additional lanes.
After each suggested improvement, the DOT gives its reason for not being able to do it.
Here are a couple of examples: “NYSDOT cannot accommodate the request for a four-way stop at this intersection as there is no pattern of crashes that would be mitigated by having all four directions of traffic stop.”
‘Pre-pandemic [vehicle] counts are useless in 2021.’
Ancram Hamlet Planning Group
“NYSDOT has been requested by the Town of Ancram to reduce the speed limit to 20 mph and has been denied because, under the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law, NYSDOT cannot designate 20 mph linear speed limits. Yellow 20 mph signs are advisory speed plaques which may be used to supplement any warning sign to indicate the advisory speed for a condition (such as a curve).”
The Ancram Hamlet Planning Group (AHPG) is made up of community volunteers, most of whom live in the hamlet. The group has been striving to improve life in the hamlet for the past two years or so. While the group is not an official committee appointed by the Town Board, it does make recommendations about hamlet-related issues to the board.
AHPG Chairman Jay Corcoran told The Columbia Paper by email this week, “Our main concern in getting the DOT to take substantial action to amend the disastrous route 82/7 intersection is that, in spite of the horrible situation, the town center has never been so vibrant. If the traffic continues to accelerate in volume and speed, and nothing is done about it, we can lose our residents that have contributed so much into making Ancram the creative hub it is becoming. With Bob Bachler and James Kennedy’s Surface Library Gallery, and Mary’s new barn, along with the soon to open Ancram Little Store, the center hasn’t looked this promising in decades.
“The most pressing issue that can thwart progress is the increased traffic and speed through the routes 82/7 intersection that makes all of us fear daily for our lives.
“There is only so much people can put up with before they pull up stakes and leave, reverting Ancram to the uninhabitable ghost town it has been for the last two decades. It’s in everyone’s best interest to solve this life-threatening situation.”
AHPG member and hamlet resident Mary Watkins recently circulated her responses to the DOT’s memo by email, noting, “their meaning is clear: The Hudson Valley Region DOT thinks little of smaller towns as it requires the same level of bureaucracy to do anything as for much larger towns, and most importantly it is a solely retroactive, backward looking agency that enforces its laws arbitrarily. On the other hand, Ancram town residents are thinking ahead and trying to follow procedure.”
She wrote that hamlet residents are concerned “in 2021 because of the increase in traffic due to pandemic movement of population into the area. If this were 2019, we would not be up in arms about the increase in accidents, the increase in truck traffic, and the difficulty of walking at the intersection. We are concerned about the imminent increase in vehicle accidents at the intersection, not the pre-pandemic record of accidents. We are trying to prevent a devastating accident, not trying to cover ourselves… the last vehicle count/study that the DOT has data on was done in 2018-2020. Pre- pandemic counts are useless in 2021.”
Also in the email she urges fellow residents to write letters to this newspaper and “forget working with the DOT as they are not interested in helping us and have little to offer regardless.”
When the Town Board took up the DOT’s memo at its August 19 meeting, it passed a resolution asking the DOT to extend the 35 mph zone on Route 82 in both directions—northwest and southeast of the intersection from Wildflower Road, where the 35 mph zone currently begins to the area of 2259/2261 State Route 82 at the top of the hill.
The board also requested that the DOT conduct the necessary traffic study to establish the extended 35 mph speed limit.
Mr. Bassin made it clear in a follow-up phone call this week that the town has no intention of conducting a traffic study on its own.
At the time of the August 19 meeting, the town was still waiting for approval from DOT on an application for a permit to install its radar speed signs on Route 82 approaching Ancram and Ancramdale. The signs will be on fixed poles along the state highway and therefore require a permit, which has been in process for many months.
Asked if DOT has given any reason for the delay, Mr. Bassin said, “They just say they are going through their regular process.”
The process must have finally run its course because in a September 3 email, Supervisor Bassin reports he received the sign permit in the mail that day.
The DOT memo says that only the town can request a speed limit study by submitting “an official letter of request and an official Town Board Resolution requesting the NYSDOT perform a speed study to determine if the extension of the existing 35 mph speed limit zone is warranted.”
The Town Board Resolution must show that there is public support for a study to take place and the Town must specify the requested study limits. “Submitting a request to perform a speed limit study does not automatically guarantee that the criteria will be met to allow the extension of the 35 mph speed limit zone.”
Additionally the DOT recommended that the Town Board, the Town Planning Board, and the Ancram Hamlet Planning Group contact NYSDOT Regional Planning and Program Management Group to help address the Town’s conceptual improvements as a long-term solution will be required. The memo says, “The long-term solution will fundamentally change the highway characteristics through the hamlet area and the town will need to initiate a project to make these changes.”