Another lost life has moved local residents and officials to once again demand safety changes along the stretch of Route 9G that travels by Tivoli and Bard College.
Local officials say there is only so much they can do about the troubled road as they battle for lower speed limits, wider roadway and strengthened markings for the Tivoli intersection. But the state is about to act on at least one of those three key issues, the Observer has learned.
In a project on the books before any of the three recent fatalities, the Department of Transportation is planning to widen the shoulders on Route 9G from just below the Columbia County border down to the Route 199 traffic light.
Beau Duffy, DOT’s Public Information Officer, told the Observer that the construction will begin in the spring.
“The road will retain its 11-foot width, and 3-foot wide shoulders will be added,” Duffy said, adding that the project has been in the works since before 2014 and should be finished by the fall.
The latest accident, on March 3, involved the death of a Devereux resident manager in a two-car crash at the West Kerley Corners-Broadway intersection, the main road to Tivoli. The crash, which injured two other men, spurred an online petition that filled rapidly. It called on the county and state to put a red light at the intersection.
The incident happened only yards from the site of a late-night Jan. 31 hit-and-run that killed two Bard College students who were walking along Route 9G to catch the college shuttle bus at the intersection. A Red Hook woman has been charged with felony drunk-driving in that case.
A high-level meeting that focused on making the area safer was held shortly after the Bard fatalities with representatives from Bard, DOT and law enforcement along with State Senator Terry Gipson, County Executive Marc Molinaro, Tivoli Mayor Bryan Cranna and Red Hook Town Supervisor Sue Crane.
Crane told the Observer that DOT had agreed the intersection was dangerous and that the entire stretch of the state road in that area was high-risk because it lacked shoulders along many portions.
Brian Keeler, Gipson’s chief-of-staff, told the Observer. “We discussed all the different options, from stop lights to improving the intersection … from flashing lights, signage and striping the road.”
“It’s a question of getting the DOT behind one specific solution to the problem,” he added.
Tivoli’s mayor Bryan Cranna said he has repeatedly petitioned DOT for a traffic light at the intersection, with no luck.
“I continued to call for more studies after some major accidents did occur at this area,” he told the Observer. “That was denied. I also asked the DOT to at least consider a flashing yellow light. That was denied.”
Following the March 3 fatality, Cranna again called on the state to take some kind of action.
Asked about a stop light, Duffy said, “The intersection did not meet traffic signal warrants, as per the review performed in 2009. The study evaluated the warrants for a traffic signal based on traffic volumes, pedestrian volumes and accident history. The study concluded that the location did not meet the criteria for a signal.”
He added that the department, however, had upgraded the road signage by installing oversized stop signs along with stop-ahead and intersection-warning signs on both the Broadway side and West Kerley Corners side of the road that intersects Route 9G. Reflective strips were also added to the sign posts.
County Executive Marc Molinaro, who was mayor of Tivoli from 1995 to 2006, told the Observer that the issue of a traffic light is a tricky one.
Though he was able to help get a traffic light at Kelly Road, below the Bard entrances, installed when he was in Tivoli, Molinaro said he wasn’t sure if one would work at the Tivoli intersection because of the sight-distance problems there.
“When I was mayor, and even today, I could see benefit to a traffic light at that intersection, but there are problems: there is not a great distance between that intersection and two inclines,” he said.
Asked if it is more difficult to make the Tivoli intersection safer because it involves both state (9G) and county (78) roads, Duffy replied that working with the county is not a problem.
County Legislator Micki Strawinski agreed. “I believe either agency can take the lead on improvements,” she said. “It should not be hard to get all the stakeholders to work together given the magnitude of accidents at this very dangerous four-way intersection.”
The issue of lower speed limits has also been an evolving one over time.
Molinaro recalled that when he became mayor, there was a passing lane and a 55 mph speed limit on Route 9G.
But, he said, he found a law that allows a village to change the speed limit a half-a mile on either side of an intersection, which he did in 1999. DOT didn’t like it, he recalled, but he persisted and the state then changed the speed limit to 45 mph from below the Columbia border to Chalk Hill Road south of the Tivoli intersection.
“We had that reduced and the passing lane eliminated … additional stop signage installed and a narrowing of the intersection,” he explained.
In 2013, the section of Route 9G that runs along all three entrances to Bard, from Annandale Road to Kelly Road, was also reduced to 45mph, according to Duffy.
The latter changes were implemented after the Red Hook Town Board, supported by the Village of Tivoli and Bard College, petitioned Dutchess County in 2012 requesting that the Department of Public Works conduct a traffic study and “take all steps necessary” to reduce the limit from West Kerley Corners Road to Kelly Road. According to Molinaro, the town has to petition the county first since they are a subdivision of the county, which is a subdivision of the state. Then the county sends the request to the state. Villages can petition the state or county directly.
Initially, DOT refused the petition. In a response letter dated Oct. 15, 2012, DOT wrote that “no adverse physical or geometric conditions” existed to make them reduce the limit and that their reviews of the accident history of that area of Route 9G found “no evidence that the accidents … are speed related.”
But, on Nov.14, 2012, a second letter was sent. This one approved a speed limit reduction “from Kelly Road to Annandale Road,” and cited “increased pedestrian activity along the corridor and additional turning movements … associated with the new performing arts center [at Bard College],” as the main reason DOT changed its position.
Molinaro said that the nature of Route 9G has changed with the expansion of Bard and that a review from a planning perspective for the whole corridor is the only answer. He worries about dwindling state resources when it comes to paying for it, though.
Cranna also feels a complete change is needed to alert drivers that there are two major communities off the busy highway.
“What truly needs to be done in my opinion … is a complete change in this corridor itself to alert drivers that they are entering an area with a vibrant village tucked away off of 9G and an ever-growing college also tucked away off of 9G,” he said. “This is what we need to work on as a community: DOT, Tivoli, county, town, state.”