(Officials from the State DOT at the Alabama Firemen’s Recreation Hall Wednesday night. From left are Jillian Button, real estate specialist with Region 4 Office of Right of Way; Paul Spitzer, regional traffic engineer; Frank Billittier, regional design engineer; Jordan Guerrein, public information officer with the DOT; and Wesley Alden, assistant regional design engineer.)
ALABAMA – The State Department of Transportation held a public information meeting Wednesday night at Alabama Firemen’s Recreation Hall to address residents’ concerns about plans to build a roundabout at the intersection of Route 77 and Ledge Road.
It was clear that 100 percent of those who spoke at the meeting are strongly opposed to the project, for a variety of reasons.
The DOT’s public information officer Jordan Guerrein said Alabama Town Supervisor Janet Sage requested the meeting to inform the public where the project stands and to take comments from local residents.
The project was initiated to address a high rate of severe accidents at the site, Guerrein said.
Between April 1, 2013 and May 31, 2018, there were 56 crashes in the area, 31 of them at the intersection. One involved a fatality. Another fatality occurred prior to 2013.
The DOT said they have considered alternative solutions and have implemented minor safety enhancements, such as upgraded signs and modified striping, but propose a modern roundabout as the best solution to the problem.
Residents were all vocal about their opposition to installing a roundabout in a 55-mile per hour speed zone at the bottom of a curve and hill. Instead there were suggestions of speed bumps on Ledge Road, a four-way stop, better lighting at the intersection, cameras, increased traffic enforcement and a signal light.
Several residents with homes at the intersection were very concerned about how close the roundabout would bring traffic to their house (one within 30 feet), the increased noise and exhaust fumes from vehicles having to slow for an extended distance and trucks accelerating to make it up the hill.
Richard Rudolph, of Akron, who was a former Pembroke highway superintendent, said he plowed that stretch of road for more than 20 years.
“When it was snowy and slippery, trucks had a hard time getting up the hill,” Rudolph said. “Now you’re going to put an obstruction in the road and expect an 80,000 pound truck to stop on ice.”
Several voiced objections to the $1.6 million price tag to taxpayers.
“Putting in a traffic light would be a whole lot cheaper and quicker,” one resident commented.
There were several suggestions from the crowd to reduce speed limits from Indian Falls to Alabama.
Paul Spitzer, regional traffic engineer, replied that setting lower speed limits typically results in more accidents.
“Reducing speed limits does not reduce accidents,” he said. “Reducing speeds lowers accidents, and roundabouts lower speed.”
He said the maximum speed in the roundabout would be 20 miles per hour.
(The State DOT shared this aerial photo at left of the intersection of Route 77 and Ledge Road in the Town of Alabama during Wednesday's public information meeting. It shows the close proximity of homes on three of the corners. At right, this design drawing shows the proposed roundabout and where a temporary road would be built to reroute traffic west on Ledge Road during construction.)
The engineers explained the roundabout would be elliptical in shape. They would meet with each of the four affected homeowners, whose properties will be appraised. They will be paid the highest market value for the portions of their land that would needed to construct the roundabout. No structures would be razed. The roundabout would come closest to the home on the southeast corner -- within 30 feet of it.
Construction of the roundabout would close the intersection for four to six weeks, engineers said. Closure will be planned to minimize impact to the school districts and local farming community.
Traffic would be detoured down routes 5 and 63 and a temporary roadway at the intersection will be used to maintain access for businesses, residents and emergency services.
Several asked if the project was a done deal or if there was still an opportunity to stop it. Annette Johnson, who lives in the Town of Alabama, is circulating petitions opposing the roundabout.
Each person who attended Wednesday’s hearing received a comment form which they can fill out and send to the DOT in Rochester.
Guerrein said the DOT will carefully read all the comments before moving forward. The next planned step would then be an environmental hearing in early 2019 to accept any further comments. The design phase would be completed in the summer of 2019, with construction scheduled to begin in the spring of 2020.
Roundabouts are proven to substantially reduce the severity of accidents, Alden said. Typically, they provide an 80-percent reduction in serious accidents, he said.
The final decision on building the roundabout will be made by the chief engineer of the State DOT in Albany, said Frank Billittier, regional design engineer.
(Photo below: Wesley Alden, assistant regional design engineer with the State DOT, takes comments from residents opposed to the construction of a roundabout at Route 77 and Ledge Road in the Town of Alabama during a public information hearing Wednesday night.)