Thursday, May 7, 2009

Chickens, Roads and Highways - A Special Report

News That Matters
Brought to you (Almost Daily) by PlanPutnam.Org

Good Thursday Morning,

Yes, it's a special Thursday because I've been ordered by god to build an ark... or at least that's the daydream I had when out this morning with the dog and wondering when the rain will stop. Still, I'm looking for gopher wood just in case -  if anyone should know what that is.

First, some news:
A mall expansion in Queensbury, NY has been scaled so way back that it's not even a mall anymore. Citing economic conditions, plans to add 136,000 sq ft have been canceled.

A Texas school board voted 11-3 to pinpoint the age of the earth at 6000 years.

Bank of America says it needs an additional $34 billion from the government.

The Southern Baptist Convention has finally decided that torture is un-Christian.

If the Town Board in Kent is against Patterson Crossing and Insite Engineering is handling that project, why is the town still using them for other things?

More than 1 in 5 homeowners across the nation is in financial deep doo-doo thanks mostly to high mortgages and credit card debt.

The 120 acre, 784,000 sq ft mixed use development, The MarketPlace at Newburgh, has broken ground and plans to have its first stores open in 2010. Best Buy and Costco are anchor tenants. What's Paul Camarda not telling us about Patterson Crossing?

Discovery of the Day: When it comes to politics, loyalty and friendship mean squat.

So, just how does a chicken cross a four-lane highway? If the result of last evening's meeting are played out, John Cohen's well sung query will not have to be answered. (Look for the full song to be posted to the blog within a week or so.)

More than 100 people (110 at my count) showed up at the County Courthouse last night to voice their opinions on a proposed project for Peekskill Hollow Road. With the exception of two voices, the overall opinion was - don't do nuthin'. Sure, fix the bridges if they're failing and there are certainly drainage and icing problems that need to be addressed, but aside from standard maintenance (which the county should have been doing anyway) there's no valid reason to add wide shoulders to that road, level out the hills and straighten the curves other than that the county wants to.

Kent resident Vic Tiship, who organized the opposition last evening, followed Mr. Cohen and laid the groundwork for the rest of the night. His four-page speech was well received and noted and will be available at the blog as soon as he sends me a copy.

As first proposed, the issue was one of safety but the project plans say that PHR is as safe as any other road. Then there was the idea that you'd be able to drive from Kent to Peekskill faster and yet, the accidents that have happened generally did so for people traveling way above the speed limit or tailgating. Then it was planned growth in the project area rated at 2% a year which would by 2029, create traffic and backups similar, I guess, to Route 22's. But a quick look at a map shows that to be so wrong words cannot describe it.

The engineers present last night said that more than 80% of people who drive that road do so at 48mph and so it's necessary to redesign sections to accommodate traffic as fast as 50 though the speed limit would remain at 40. People thought this would encourage even faster travel speeds and more accidents and they'd be correct.

Legislator Vinnie Tamagna, who as chair of the Physical Services Committee had his hands full, ran the event quite well as speaker after speaker came to the podium and voiced objections to virtually any plan for the road beyond, as I said above, standard maintenance.

But the star of the night, at least to me, was highway engineer Tom Barrett (I may have his name wrong) who grew up in these parts and neatly explained every step of the process to getting the proposed project finished and why each aspect was needed. For example, if you want to add a guide rail you need land behind it so that it acts as a 'rubber band' rather than an immovable object. If there are cracks in the side of the road you need land beyond those cracks in order to effect repairs... and so on. He took the brunt of questions and dealt smoothly with each one. And as the evening wore on, reluctance to replacing bridges fell aside as did a few other points as understanding of the complexity of even minor repairs became clear. He was calm and collected, knew his shit and presented the complex workings of a highway project in a manner that other engineers would be smart to follow and that educated the public in a way that fostered understanding. Still, he was unable to persuade folk that a general widening of travel lanes or shoulders was required. Frankly, it wasn't his job to do that and he didn't even try. He just laid out the facts. A hearty mazel tov to him for being a mensch.

But the main issue here wasn't one of the project directly, but of a lack of mistrust between the community and its government. Since 1998 plans have been set to mangle the rural look and feel of that corridor and though we've been told that project was dead, Dead, DEAD!, the current plans are called, "Phase A" which does, by logic, extend itself to a B and a C. Chairman Tamagna did note, and rightly so, that most of those in the room feared that completing one section of this project (Adams to Oregon Corners) would lay the groundwork for phases B and C thus altering the entire length of PHR from PV to Route 301 in Kent.
To alleviate some of those fears Mr. Tamagna read a proposed resolution that would forbid the current Legislature from entertaining any future *major* projects along Peekskill Hollow Road north of Adams Corners. Though the copy was in a rough form, Mr. T did suggest that the process would be an open one and that the committee would come up with stronger, more direct language for their next meeting.
Putnam Valley Supervisor Bob Tendy rose in support of the project and in doing so insulted the "Friends of Peekskill Hollow Road" whom he described as a "small group of people" who were in love with a road, an "inanimate object" while he was in love with the safety of children and people. It was an embarrassing moment for all involved. He also said the road wasn't "historic" which earned vocal groans from the audience, and which later speakers neatly debunked. But that was it for Supervisor Tendy who left the courthouse almost immediately and so was unavailable to hear comments made in reaction later on.

Kent's Doug Koberger, a former Kent planning board member and County Legislator took the lectern in his imitable style and with humor and candor laid out his opposition. Putnam Valley's David Amram talked about how the process displayed the best of democracy. Others followed suit as speaker after speaker, nearly 20 in all, talked about how important it was that enforcement of posted speeds, general maintenance and other common and simple solutions would serve the public interest where an $8 million highway project would not.

One speaker suggested that if the county really wanted to spend $8 million on Peekskill Hollow Road that better entrance and exit ramps to the Taconic Parkway would be their best use.

If you were there, you had to be proud of your neighbors.

As the evening wore on - and it did for three and a half hours - Mr. T wrote suggestions and concerns on large flip boards. At the end, he handed each attendant three sticky 'dots' which would be placed on the items the public felt were most important. The list accumulated more than 30 ideas which included a "no build" option and garnering support for historic designation, but also included safety concerns, bridge repair, asking the Leg to rescind the EAF, lowering speed limits and an out-and-out rejection of Phases B and C. I'll have the results for you on that just as soon as Mr. T collates and releases that information.

But there are some legitimate issues that were not dealt with. For many living along the road, stepping out to get their mail can be dangerous, children playing in front yards are now playing in the back and walking between nearby homes could be fatal due to speed and sight-lines. But many of those issues can be resolved inexpensively by cutting back some of the rocks and ledges that hug the sides of the roads, better signs and slower speeds, all issues which have always been available to the county... if it weren't so interested in a major thoroughfare stretching from Boyd's Corners to Oregon Corners. I think we can say that at least with this Legislature that proposal really is dead. What future Leg's may do only time will tell.

Now the responsibility falls in the publics lap. We need to see that there is follow-through with what was discussed last evening and that plans do move forward for the most egregious problems on that road such as replacing failing bridges. If the Bondi Administration will only move if someone else foots the bill, a speaker reminded all of us last night that regardless of where those funds come from, whether it be town, county, state or federal, those monies are ours and come from our pockets.

I've been covering this issue for a long time and will continue to cover it as long into the future as is necessary to ensure the integrity of Peekskill Hollow Road and the quality of life for its neighbors. Let's just hope that future is a brief one and that we can lay this issue to rest.


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