Orangetown approves work for 2018
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The Orangetown Town Board gave the green light recently to a long-awaited reconstruction project for a dangerous mile-long stretch of North Middletown Road in Pearl River, from Central Avenue north to Crooked Hill Road.
Details of the major re-building effort were presented to the Town Board at its last workshop meeting by Highway Superintendent James Dean and the project’s consulting engineers, Hudson Valley Engineering. Following the half-hour presentation and a short question and answer period, the board gave its unanimous blessing to the plan and authorized Dean and the firm to continue engineering work so construction can begin next winter and hopefully be completed sometime in 2019.
Dean explained that this stretch of North Middletown Road is one of the busiest and most dangerous in all of Orangetown. Several pedestrians have been killed attempting to cross the busy highway over the past decade, he said, and non-fatal accidents have been in the hundreds.
Orangetown has never been able to improve or upgrade the road, he further explained, because it has never been a town highway, owned and maintained by the town. It was originally a state highway called Route 304, he said, and varied in width from two to four lanes at various locations as it wound its way from the Montvale, N.J. border north about 10 miles to Haverstraw, where it eventually joined US Highway 9-W.
More than 50 years ago the state re-routed Rt. 304 as a four-lane highway, and deeded the older road to Rockland County, which has owned and maintained it ever since.
Dean said to try and correct the road’s many deficiencies, he has obtained a state grant to construct concrete sidewalks on both sides of Middletown Road.
In some narrow areas the road will also be widened, he said, in conjunction with the county highway department and his close working relationship with Highway Superintendent Charles “Skip” Vezzetti, an Orangetown resident who used to be the assistant director of the town highway department, under Dean.
Dean said planning for the improvement began two years ago following the death of a young woman attempting to cross the highway between CVS Pharmacy and Shop Rite. With support from Supervisor Stewart’s active grant writing initiative, and the town board, the town applied for and received $1.9 million for a pedestrian safety upgrade of the sidewalks, traffic signals and pedestrian crossings. Over the last year, the Highway Department has coordinated an engineering study and design process resulting in myriad proposed improvements. The plans were eventually approved by the New York State Department of Transportation and work is scheduled to take place over the next year or so.
Dean said that the purpose of last week’s presentation was to update the Town Board and the public on the status of the project. Previous meetings have taken place in Pearl River to gain public input with suggestions for further improvements, and to address the specific driveway needs of businesses located along the busy corridor.
About 20 people were in the audience that evening, most of them Pearl River residents. They did ask several questions about particular intersections along the one-mile route and appeared generally satisfied with the responses given by both Dean and engineers from the design consulting firm.
Jack Gorton, the lead engineer, said he is very familiar with the stretch of Middletown Road in question, as he is a long-time Pearl River resident and uses that road on a daily basis.
Current plans are to construct a concrete curb and sidewalk along the entire western side of the project, from Central Avenue to Crooked Hill Road. A similar concrete curb and sidewalk will also be built on the eastern side of the road, but only from Central Avenue north to Pearce Parkway, since there is little pedestrian traffic north of that point.
Gorton said one of the biggest problems at the southern end of the road, between Shop Rite and CVS, is that Pearl River High School is located directly behind Shop Rite and thousands of students attempt to cross the highway daily going to and from school and accessing a variety of fast food establishments throughout the day.
School officials and merchants are reluctant to fence the school off, preventing students from accessing the businesses, he added, leaving the only alternative to protecting them being to create safe sidewalks and specially designated crossing zones at several nearby intersections.
Painted stripes will be added to the new pavement, he explained, and several signs will be installed telling both pedestrians and motorists of each approaching crosswalk.
When the work is done, he said, four current businesses would be more affected than others in limiting students’ ability to cross directly into their front doors. Instead, students may have to walk up or down half a block to a designated crossing zone.
He said he is hopeful that with education and training, students will take this into account and not try to sabotage the project by continuing to cross wherever they want without any consideration for their own safety and for motorists.
“The goal is to make pedestrian safety in this area a priority,” Gorton told the board and audience.
Dean and Gorton agreed the most dangerous crossing now it at the intersection of Middletown Road and Central Avenue. Vehicles headed south on Middletown can now turn right onto Central toward the hamlet’s central business district without ever stopping or even slowing down. A traffic light at that intersection only affects drivers crossing over or turning in other directions.
To correct this, the existing “slip lane” will be eliminated and everyone will have to stop for red lights, regardless of their travel route. A timer will control the length of red lights, allowing pedestrians time to cross the busy intersection in any direction, following the light signals and using the painted crossing zones.
Pedestrians attempting to cross Middletown anywhere between Central Avenue and Blauvelt Road will be directed to nearby crossing zones at nearby intersections, rather than crossing mid-block as they do now.
A second major problem is at Miele Auto Parts at Middletown and Blauvelt Roads. A sidewalk there will eliminate all of that business’s front parking spaces, Gorton noted, but will permit pedestrians to safely walk in front of the store without being forces out in the Middletown pavement.
To compensate Miele for their loss of parking, Gorton said they would be permitted additional side and rear parking, with no curb cut directly in front of the store.
Left turn lanes will also be added to this intersection, and all three directions will be controlled by an attenuated traffic signal, along with painted crossing zones.
Where Braunsdorf Road and Holt Drive meet Middletown, Braunsdorf will be narrowed from its current four-lane width to only two lanes, directly opposite Holt. A traffic light will be installed, and crossing zone markings will be added to the pavement on all four sides.
Gorton, a former DOT engineer himself before going into private practice, said the state agency should allocate the $1.9 million for this project late this year, and actual construction can begin as soon as the ground thaws in March or April of 2018. The project should take about a year to construct, he estimated, meaning it could be completed by the spring of 2019.
In the meantime, Dean said he would be glad to meet with Pearl River area residents, businesses and organizations to firm up the final plans for their submission to DOT headquarters in Albany.
Changes to the plans can still be made, both men emphasized, and while engineering is tentatively complete additional funding is also being sought to add to the $1.9 million already available, so it could be expanded even further than already envisioned.
Dean said any comments or questions from the public can be directed to him at the Orangetown Highway Department in Orangeburg. He will pass them on to Gorton to assess their feasibility and cost estimates.
The final step in the process, once the plans are complete and the funding is available, is to advertise for public bids from construction companies to actually do the work.
If the bids fall within the available funds, the Town Board can award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder. If the bids exceed the available funding the town has to decide whether to reduce the size of the project, redesign the project, re-bid the project, or scrap it altogether.