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Fonda officials have safety concerns over closed rail crossings

Wednesday, August 21, 2013
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— Rail crossings are a big deal in Fonda, according to Mayor Bill Peeler.

“Nearly everyone in the village wants them kept open,” he said.

Ever since CSX asked the state Department of Transportation to close crossings at Center Street and Broadway in the village more than a year ago, there’s been contention.

Last Thursday, DOT officials handed down a final ruling. Peeler got the paperwork Tuesday and called a news conference Wednesday. He wasn’t at all happy about their decision.

“It hinders freedom,” he said to a handful of reporters and two village residents gathered in the village office.

The ruling orders the Center Street crossing, which is currently blocked by concrete barricades, to remain closed to vehicle traffic. It also orders the Broadway crossing, just a tenth of a mile to the west and currently open to traffic in both directions, to be closed to northbound traffic.

A single lane of southbound traffic will remain open on Broadway as well as pedestrian traffic at both crossings.

Peeler said the decision could have been worse, but could have been a lot better, too.

“It seems like the only thing the DOT and I agree on is safety,” he said.

DOT officials ruled in favor of at least partial closure in order to protect drivers from crossings that have each claimed a life in the last decade. Peeler is more concerned about the safety of his residents during floods.

Fonda residents who live between the tracks and the Mohawk River will have to exit their neighborhood via Park Street and Route 30A once an order is enacted.

“That’s the first intersection to flood,” said Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Adam Schwabrow.

The DOT ruling allows for the Broadway crossing to be opened to northbound traffic under certain circumstances — like the sort of flooding that has become common in past years — but requires a police officer be present to direct traffic.

“In an emergency situation, emergency personnel are stretched thin as it is,” Schwabrow said. “It’s an inconvenience.”

Peeler is in discussions with the village attorney about appealing the DOT decision, but he admits it’s going to be difficult. The DOT has authority over roads that cross rail lines, Peeler explained. Also, every argument the village can make has already been aired at public hearings and were rejected.

“Money is going to be a major factor,” he said, “If it turns out to be an arduous battle, and I think it will, we’ll have to put it to the residents, because they’ll be shouldering the bill.”

James Riggi, one of two residents in attendance, lives on South Center Street. In the past few years, he’s watched neighbors abandon six of the 10 homes on his stretch of road — scared off by flooding and traffic isolation.

“I guess I’m a little more resilient,” he said, “but I’m worried about my family if it floods again. Having just one exit, that’s not even legal in public buildings.”

Even so, he wasn’t sure what he thought about a legal battle with the state DOT.

“The Center Street crossing isn’t worth fighting over,” he said. “Honestly, I’d just be tickled pick if they’d leave things exactly as they are right now.”

Peeler said he and the village board have just 180 days to either comply with the order or mount an appeal. If they don’t comply, the Broadway crossing will be totally closed.

 
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