When Yogi Berra said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” he could have been talking about the perennial issue of truck traffic.
For decades, foundation-rattling trucks passing through the village have been the source of complaints by residents, especially in warm weather months. According to village and state officials, many of the trucks use state roads 9W and 32 to avoid tolls on the Thruway.
“Trucks are clearly a problem that creates unsafe conditions and clearly impacts the local community,” says Brian Donoghue, owner of Inquiring Minds Bookstore. “The store gets lots of complaints from people about feeling unsafe, especially from the elderly. They feel like they are taking their life in their hands on the street. Plus there is diesel noise and dirt. Trucks should be dissuaded from using Partition St.”
Easier said than done. Legally, local governments can’t prevent trucks from using state roads. Donoghue understands this, and suggests what has been the traditional recourse for communities hoping to discourage behavior they can’t prosecute — zealous enforcement of the laws that are on the books, like traffic laws and weight restrictions.
“The town or village doesn’t own the road but officials have the authority to regulate traffic on the road,” Donoghue said. “More summons should be issued especially when vehicles don’t stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks, and I’m looking at just that right now.”
That seems unlikely. Police Chief Joe Sinagra says he hasn’t received any complaints so far this year. He’s been chief for just over three years and in the past, he said getting 12 complaints in a year was a lot.
Several people said the problem has gotten better.
“Truck traffic was worse in the past when the big cement trucks would be there,” said retired restaurateur and B&B owner, Jimmy Tamayo, who lives on Partition St. “Now it’s a lot of delivery and tractor trailers that block the street. They are constantly running over curbs. I see it happen but don’t have pen and paper to take down a license number.”
Driving through the village center in a semi-truck is like threading a needle. With pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, cars and trucks all passing through the same area, things can get tight. Harold Swart, owner of the Saugerties Antique Gallery on Partition St., has seen these trucks take off the rear-view mirrors and even a door of a parked vehicle.
“The main thing is you gotta look,” he said. “Drivers should pull in their mirrors and park really close to the curb.”
Often, especially when making that turn onto or off of Partition St., the big semis drive over the sidewalks made of bluestone slabs. “The streets and sidewalks get busted up,” Tamayo said. “Saugerties has gotten a lot busier with tourists and foot traffic. There is so much traffic now that cars line up all the way to Mirabella’s just waiting for the light.”
“Why is this a truck route?” asked Jen Dragon of the Cross Contemporary Gallery. “The Thruway is nearby, so why are the trucks taking 9W through the narrow streets? Are they avoiding tolls and the weigh station?
“Main and Partition is a tight little intersection. I’m surprised the trucks choose this route, as it’s inappropriate and dangerous. When the big trucks go by the ground shakes and weakens these old buildings.”
Ed Montano, one of the owners of Montano’s Shoe Store, says he has gotten used to the trucks passing through. “The problem is that it’s difficult getting deliveries as the freight companies have nowhere to park. We now get deliveries at our warehouse and shuttle the goods back and forth because the drivers refuse to park in front of the store. The question is, how are the roads holding up?”
Swart is circumspect about the situation.
“The problem is we want things but not things that go along with it,” he said. “The trucks bring stuff that’s needed and it has to get there somehow.”
So why do the trucks pass through Saugerties? Alex Wade, who heads up special projects for the village, gave several reasons. For one, there really is no ideal bypass, so there’s no foolproof way for trucks using state roads to get around the village center. He said many enter or exit the Thruway in Saugerties to avoid routes 32 and 9W between Saugerties and Catskill (32 because it is circuitous, 9W because of the low overpass). These trucks are using state roads to save on tolls, and with the Thruway on one side of the village and 9W on the other, they all end up passing through.
Although there is no ideal bypass, recent construction at the intersection of Main and Partition shows that it is possible for trucks to avoid the business district. Thanks to the refinished Sauer Bridge at PVI Hill and the accompanying reduction in the sharpness of the curves in the approach, trucks can take Glasco Tpke. from 9W south of the village to Kings Highway then on to the Thruway or Rt. 32. Some trucks are still too heavy for this bridge, but it’s a viable bypass for most, at least in the warmer months. The hill is too steep to safely be used by trucks in winter. Also, there’s an at-grade train crossing, never an ideal feature for a highly trafficked truck route. Still, this summer’s construction will likely result in less truck traffic in the village center as more truckers notice the detour is actually faster and more spacious.
But even if there are fewer trucks, for some people, there will likely always be too many. Village buildings are close to the road and trucks are going to use truck routes. Short of a major infrastructure project that would widen roads and reinforce bridges for higher capacity (or, as the 2007 Saugerties Area Mobility Analysis study funded by the county dreamed, a bridge over the Esopus connecting 9W and Burt St. were to be built), Saugerties will experience large trucks passing through its village center for years to come. For everyone who remembers when it was worse and doesn’t complain, new people move to town with expectations for small-town quiet.
As Yogi might say, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”