Based upon input from social media and local business sources, we learned in this column last week that, while 21 New Paltz intersections, including pretty much the entire stretch of Route 299/Main street, are the source of considerable vexation for our residents, there are a few that stand out as particularly egregious. The M&T Bank-Dedrick’s-middle school corner where Route 32 South and North Manheim almost meet; the P&G’s-Starbucks crossing where Plattekill Avenue meets North Front Street and the Mobil station intersection where Route 208, Main Street and Route 32 North come together, were clear frontrunners for the title of worst intersection.
I then sought to validate these passionate but anecdotal reports of local citizens with hard data, and found that New York State has funded a variety of studies, reports and data bases that help quantify the inconvenience and safety problems we experience each day in our community.
The inconvenience factor
Thanks to Gina DiSarro and the NYS Department of Transportation Region 8 Traffic Engineering Department located in Poughkeepsie, I was able to ascertain the actual timing of the traffic lights at key intersections.
It will probably come as no surprise to locals that the lights at the intersections of Route 299 with North/South Putt Corners Road, with North Manheim/Route 32 South, and with Route 208/Route 32 North, stay green for the east/west traffic until a driver heading north or south pulls up at a light. Of the three intersections, the one that elicited the most complaints on social media regarding the short duration of the north/south green light was the one at M&T Bank. And the data was supportive of this. Once a vehicle heading north or south triggers a red light along Route 299, those driving north on Route 32 have a maximum of 30 seconds of green, while those heading south on Manheim have only 15 seconds to scoot across before the light once again turns red. This information may come as meagre comfort to daily users of this intersection, however, now at least you know you’re not crazy.
Things are a little easier at the Putt Corners intersection. There you have a 134-second cycle length, with the time split between left and right turns and straight across Route 299. However, if you’re trying to cross Main Street at the bottom of town coming from either Route 208 or 32 North, you have a window of only 32 seconds to get across, so long as no pedestrian pushes the button. If you’re making a left onto Main to head uptown, you get a 20-second green arrow.
The safety factor
With help from principal transportation planner Brian Slack and his colleague David Staas, transportation planner, at the Ulster County Department of Planning, I learned that at least 340 accidents occurred between 2010 and 2014 at the top ten problem intersections identified by both citizens and traffic consultants.
Forty accidents, more than 10% of the total occurring during the reporting period, took place at the Mobil station intersection at the bottom of town. This was the highest number for any of the New Paltz locations identified in the New York State Accident Location reporting system. In order to accurately compare intersection safety, however, it is important to note that the frequency of accidents is a function of the volume of traffic, the physical way the roads come together, the type of traffic control equipment present and, of course, speed.
In order of decreasing frequency, 38 collisions were reported at the M&T Bank/middle school location; 28 at the Butterville Road/Albany Post Road intersection; 15 at the Cedar Lane/Route 208/Jansen Road location, and 15 at the P&G’s/Starbucks crossing. Each of these locations had been discussed by local residents in their social media posts as candidates for worst intersection.
The New York State Traffic Data Viewer (https://www.dot.ny.gov/tdv) provides a fascinating visual display of how tens of thousands of vehicles regularly wend their way through our community. The average annual daily traffic count on the stretch of Route 299 between the New Paltz Thruway exit and the light at M&T Bank is 21,864. Between the bank and the Mobil station at the bottom of town, it’s 15,385. The count for the section of Route 299 between the light at the Mobil station and the turn for Springtown Road is 10,584. Between Springtown Road and Libertyville Road the number averages 7,212. Between Libertyville Road and the Butterville/Albany Post Road intersection it drops to 4,405.
Folks living in the Cherry Hill area will be happy to learn that, even though the average annual daily traffic count at the Stop & Shop location in their vicinity is 21,864, only 16 dust-ups occurred at the entrance to their neighborhood in the four year period between 2010 and 2014. What’s also interesting about these numbers is that although this location handles almost five times the volume of traffic on an average day as compared to the Butterville/Albany Post Road intersection, it has only about half the number of accidents. One assumes that speed may be a factor once drivers cross the Wallkill and traffic congestion eases.
It turns out that eleven years ago, beginning in June of 2004, a series of studies was conducted that confirmed the identification of the most problematic intersections in our town. The results of the studies were summarized in the 144-page 2006 report entitled New Paltz Transportation/Land Use Project, which is posted on the Town of New Paltz website. Subsequently, on November 16, 2010, the New York State Department of Transportation notified then-village mayor Terry Dungan and then-town supervisor Toni Hokanson that it had created a Transportation Improvement Project (TIP) for “Route 299 New Paltz” and had established funding in the amount of $8.573 million to cover the cost of the planning and construction needs identified by the study. The project, designated PIN 8T04.44, cites improvements at the Route 299 and Route 32 South (North Manheim Boulevard) intersection as number one on a list of ten priorities. That is the good news.
The political factor
The less good news is that not one red cent of that money has been expended since that time to improve the traffic flow and safety of the Route 299/Main Street corridor, due to inaction on the part of our local politicians. The even less good news is that, in the absence of assertive action on the part of town and village officials this fall, this project may be dropped from the Ulster County Transportation Council’s Transportation Improvement Program. I learned this from the chair of the Town/Village Transportation Implementation Committee, Gail Gallerie, and from Brian Slack, Ulster County principal transportation planner.
As Mr. Slack pointed out, “… the dollars available are up for revision later this fall; at that time the NYSDOT will make a general proposal whether to pursue the project as it is currently programmed or to make adjustments.” He also told me that “there is no local share for this project; it would be fully funded with state and federal dollars.”
You will have to ask our town and village politicians why the recommendations of studies begun in 2004, culminating in the creation of an $8.5 million project by the Department of Transportation in 2010, have not been implemented to improve infrastructure along the Route 299 corridor in New Paltz. One group that has worked tirelessly on this issue is the Transportation Implementation Committee chaired over all these years by Gail Gallerie. As I write this piece, Gail is attending the monthly meeting of the Ulster County Transportation Council where New Paltz’s project will be reviewed this fall. Gail echoed the message of the county transportation experts that, without a clear indication of the importance of this project to the citizens of New Paltz, the NYS DOT will simply turn its attention to the many other needs vying for its attention. The committee meets next at 7 p.m. on September 15 at the Village Hall, and “new ideas and new faces are always welcome.”
New Paltz can no longer afford to have its local politicians embroiled in personal vendettas, dysfunctional personality tiffs and self-serving projects. Village residents have made a good start by electing three individuals who have demonstrated their commitment to open government and fact-based decision-making. Let’s hope town voters will do the same in November. In the meantime, as you meet with those running for office in the town and county, I hope you’ll ask them about NYSDOT TIP 8T04.44. To paraphrase the bard, “The fault, dear citizens, is not in our intersections, but in ourselves.”