New Paltz Highway Superintendent Chris Marks has a plan for making the intersection of Gatehouse Road with Route 299 a little bit safer for all concerned. He explained his vision to members of the town’s Planning Board at their February 22 meeting. As it’s laid out now, a driver headed westbound on 299 can make a slight right turn onto Gatehouse with little to no reduction in speed, making it a convenient bypass for heading towards Butterville Road. The excessive speed of drivers turning onto Gatehouse is just one of the problems with the acute angle at which it joins Route 299; it’s difficult too see traffic coming from the west when trying to merge onto the state route from the town road, as well. Discussions of how to improve the situation have been ratcheted up by the proposal to develop a parking area for 90 cars near the Testimonial Gateway as part of a larger project to provide access to the 857-acre Foothills parcel of the Mohonk Preserve.
According to Marx, discussions about realigning the Gatehouse Road intersection date back at least to the 1990s, when he was a highway department employee. After walking the area again, he’s come up with a plan that he believes can reduce speeds, improve visibility and prevent backups on 299, and do it within the town-owned right-of-way. The Marx plan would result in Gatehouse joining 299 at closer to a 90-degree angle, and would allow for a 190-foot-long deceleration lane alongside Route 299 to prevent rear-end collisions with the cars of drivers who are turning off towards the parking lot. There’s already a ten-foot swath of blacktop laid down, Marx said, meaning that the changes would be “relatively cheap.”
Some private driveways would have to be extended to meet the road in its new location, Marx said, one of which will have to be worked around an existing utility pole, which he expects to be the most challenging part of the plan. A side benefit of the realignment would be that highway department employees would have more room to leave snow where it won’t create visibility problems. “New traffic pattern” signs would be prominently posted to remind locals that the road isn’t where they might expect it to be.
Another frequent request has been to seek a speed-limit reduction to 45 mph on Route 299. Town Planning Board chairman Mike Calimano said that he is presently trying to determine what additional studies might be needed to bolster such a request to the state Department of Transportation. Once there is sufficient data to document the need, he will request that the Town Board make that request.
Marx was also asked about the underpass on Butterville Road, which can be quite narrow if cars are parked close too it and not entirely off the blacktop, as the law requires. “It’s a bad area,” Marx agreed, but he didn’t have any suggested road improvements, because he couldn’t come up with any that he thought his crew could effectively maintain. One suggestion, designating the underpass a single lane, would require installing a signal to control traffic because a slight bend makes it impossible to see if there is a vehicle already in transit.
“People are used to free parking on Butterville” and Pine roads, pointed out Lagusta Yearwood, albeit free parking that’s generally considered unsafe. She was worried that replacing that with parking that can only be accessed by being a member of the Mohonk Preserve or paying for a day pass could create complications of its own.
“We haven’t proposed a parking ban on Butterville,” Calimano assured her. Pine Road is private, so it’s never been legal to park alongside it without permission, despite it being a common practice.
Marx spoke during a workshop meeting review of the Foothills project, at which no public input was entertained. Town Planning Board members reviewed the third part of the environmental assessment form, in which details are laid out about specific impacts of the plan so that they may be compared to the thresholds in the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Calimano explained that this first pass would be to identify areas which no board members have concerns about those impacts, or how they are described. For many of the sections, no board members had anything to say at all.
Michael Zierler wanted to draw attention to the floating walkway which is proposed to allow visitors to access Humpo Marsh, because a similar system has been in use in the Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary since 2001 with excellent results. “It’s a very impressive system,” Zierler said, with “minimal impacts” on the wetlands in the preserve, which is located off Huguenot Street. “The installation requires no heavy machinery.” Zierler was also the only board member to ask a question about impacts to plants and animals; he wanted clarification regarding migratory paths of animals in that part of the preserve. According to Mohonk Preserve Executive Director Glenn Hoagland, the only concern of that nature was about the location of bat nesting sites, and none were found.
Board attorney George Lithco wanted more information on the limited number of sponsored events that Preserve staff members anticipate being held. According to Hoagland, there are periodic gatherings to thank donors and volunteers, which are generally held at the Slingerland Pavilion in Marbletown because it has convenient access to electricity. The events are also generally held during daylight hours, Hoagland said, but still might require the use of a small tent. Two member weddings were also held on Preserve grounds last year. Chairman Calimano thought it would be worth discussing whether it would be appropriate for such events to ever be held in the Foothills section.
The review will continue at the board’s March 14 meeting.