Alabama, county named in suit that blames municipalities for failure to install roundabout at Ledge Road
A decision by the Alabama Town Board in April 2019 to oppose the installation of a roundabout at the intersection of Ledge Road and Route 77 has led to a lawsuit filed by an Oakfield woman who sustained severe injuries in an accident at that intersection on Oct. 2, 2020.
Marianne Molaro sustained permanent injures, "including but not limited to, a fracture of the cervical spine at the C-2 level," according to the suit filed in November by attorney Bradley D. Marble of Lockport on her behalf.
Also named is Genesee County; the other driver, Amber M. Messervey, of Naples; the owner of the car Masservey was driving; and Victor Chase, of Rochester.
The amount of damages, if the plaintiff prevails, are left up to a jury, the suit states.
At the time of the accident, the DOT had not yet announced its decision to drop its proposal for a roundabout, or a traffic circle, at the intersection. That decision wouldn't be made public until May 2021.
It's not clear that Molaro can recover damages from the town since Route 77 is property of New York State, and the Town has no authority to install or block a traffic circle at the intersection. Marble did not respond to a request for comment on the suit.
The state is not named in the suit.
The town's insurance agent is handling the legal response to the suit.
The suit seeks to hold both the town and the county liable for "negligent reckless and careless" action in "failing to provide a safe roadway" and in failing to "correct a known safety risk," in failing to "perform an adequate highway safety plan study; in failing to abide by a highway safety plan that provided a reasonable basis for the decisions made; failing to follow the guidance of the NYS DOT to install a roundabout at the location of the collision" and to fail to take any other reasonable action that could help prevent serious accidents at the intersection.
In 2019, the town sent a letter to the Department of Transportation opposing a proposed $1.8 million roundabout out of concern that "while it may decrease high-impact accidents, it will increase low-impact accidents, which will, in turn, increase the amount of emergency calls for our volunteer firemen."
The letter raised concerns about farmers moving equipment through the roundabout, plowing it in winter, increased noise from trucks slowing and applying their jake brakes, and the danger of traffic slowing as vehicles approach the roundabout.
"The proposed roundabout will be approximately 30 feet from a residence," the letter stated. "This poses a significant safety hazard to this property owner."
Supervisor Janet Sage signed the letter, along with Deputy Supervisor Kevin Fisher, board members Gordon Linsey, Jill Klotzbach, and William Cleveland.
The county is named in the suit even though the County Legislation declined in May 2019, when the Town of Alabama requested the County to join Alabama in opposing the roundabout. Members of the Legislature listened to Highway Superintendent Tim Hens when he outlined why roundabouts help save lives.
Traffic engineers generally support roundabouts, they say, because roundabouts lead to a 60 percent reduction in all types of accidents and a 99 percent reduction in fatal accidents because they eliminate head-on and right-angle, high-speed collisions.
On Oct. 2, 2020, Molaro was driving northbound on Alleghany Road when her vehicle was struck by one driven by Messervey, according to the suit, when she failed to stop for a stop sign in the eastbound portion of Ledge Road.
The Batavian requested a copy of the accident report, which is public record, from State Police, which, contrary to the state's open records law, declined the request.
During the state's proposal process for the roundabout, the DOT stated that between April 1, 2013, and May 31, 2018, there were 56 crashes in the area and 31 of them at the intersection. Two of the accidents were fatal.
The DOT said at the time of the proposal for a roundabout that they did consider alternative solutions and had implemented minor safety enhancements, such as upgraded signs and modified striping, but proposed a modern roundabout as the best solution to the propensity for accidents at the intersection. The engineers proposed an elliptical-shaped roundabout.
Roundabouts reduce the risk of a fatal crash by 90%, not 99%, as compared to signals serving the same amount of traffic.