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State considering $1.8 million roundabout for Route 20 at Suicide Corners

By Howard B. Owens

Suicide Corners has a reputation, and as the name implies, it's not a good one.

While accidents may not be frequent where East Road crosses Route 20, when they have occurred -- at least until a few years ago -- they've been deadly.

There were fatal accidents at the intersection in June 1998, April 1999 and June 2004. One was a triple fatal and another a double fatal.

After the 2004 accidents, Bethany residents gathered 2,633 signatures asking the NYS Department of Transportation to do something about the intersection.

Their thought -- regrade Route 20.

The state's response: No physical changes to the roadway were necessary. The DOT put up bigger and brighter signs.

There hasn't been a fatal accident at the intersection since, only fender-benders, according to Tom Douglas. He said accidents have been reduced by 36 percent.

Douglas, who with his wife, Debbie, raised six kids in a 200-year-old house (formerly an inn with a second-story dance floor) on property abutting Suicide Corners.  He and his son personally witnessed the 2004 accident, which claimed the life of an infant and two other people (inset photo from the memorial on a pole across East Road from the Douglas residence).

Now, seven years after the last fatal accident, DOT officials have apparently decided it's time to take more drastic measures to make the intersection safer.

The proposal: A $1.8 million traffic circle, a roundabout like the one on Oak Street in the City of Batavia.

If the project is approved, Tom and Debbie Douglas will lose their home. The state will seize their property through eminent domain (providing fair market value and relocation expenses).

About a quarter of the traffic circle will be on their current property, with the roadway through the area moving moved southward several dozens of feet.

Tom Douglas said not only will his family lose their home, a home with some local history, he doesn't believe the project serves any useful purpose.

"Statistically," he said, "It's not needed."

Lori Maher, public information officer for the DOT in the Genesee Region, said what the DOT is looking at is the entire history of the intersection, not just the past few years.

"That (no fatalities since 2004) doesn't mean that the problem is corrected and we should walk away from it, so we are pursuing a safety improvement program," Maher said.

But she said that doesn't mean the state will necessarily build a roundabout and that the Douglases will lose their home.

The proper corrective action is still under review and state engineers may yet determine that a roundabout is not the best solution (weighing, in fact, the serious decision of proceeding with eminent domain on the Douglas property).

The project, however, has been funded for construction to begin in the summer of 2013.

There will be public meetings and ample time for the public to provide feedback on the project, Maher said, but because fact-finding is not yet completed, no dates for those hearings have been set.

Douglas, town building inspector (Debbie is town clerk) and Bethany Town Supervisor Louis Gayton also question the wisdom of spending money on a roundabout when the Bethany Town Center Road bridge over Route 20 is in such drastic need of replacement or repair. Chunks of it regularly fall off onto Route 20.

"One of these days, somebody is going to get injured," Douglas said.

The main issue, Douglas said, isn't the traffic on Route 20. It's drivers on East Road, mostly northbound drivers, blowing through the intersection.

Douglas and others have suggested rumble strips on East Road, but both the state and the county highway department have rejected the idea as impractical.

"They think people will just drive around them," Douglas said. "But if they're driving around them, they're slowing down. It would still alert them to the intersection."

Gayton wonders if the roundabout will even improve safety.

"Trucks come through there at 60 to 65 mph," Gayton said. "Now they've got to slow down to 15 mph. I don't need to tell you what will happen."

Tim Hens, the county's highway superintendent, in an email sent Monday to county legislators obtained by Douglas, also questioned the DOT's decision.

This is not set in stone yet as it has to muster a public review process and final board adoption, but if adopted, we stand to lose funding for three bridge projects in the immediate TIP period covering 2011-14. This may only be the tip of the iceberg if new transportation reauthorization is not clear by the end of the year.

I did find it odd that they decided to keep the NEW Rt 20/East Rd (Suicide Corners) roundabout in the plan versus EXISTING bridges that are deteriorating. I know there has been loss of life at this corner, but not sure the roundabout is a popular solution with many local people.

Maher said, however, that the funding sources for bridges are different than the funding sources for intersection improvements. If an improvement -- roundabout or not -- for Suicide Corners isn't approved, then the $1.8 million slated for the project will just go to another intersection in the Genesee Region in need of improvement.

Sheriff Gary Maha, who attended a May 24 meeting with the DOT where the plan was first presented said he will leave the decision about how to improve safety to the experts, but he does know the state is increasingly using roundabouts throughout the state to improve safety on major roadways. He just visited two in Saratoga Springs.

"There's been a lot of serious accidents there over the years," Maha said. "I support anything that could improve safety in the area, certainly."

Doug Yeomans

I live right down the road from this intersection and in my opinion, a roundabout makes no sense. They want to slow down east/west traffic to 15mph and they think that's safer than rumble strips? How many rear-enders is that nonsense going to cause? Cutting rumble strips into the pavement would be inexpensive and drivers can't go around them if they span the full width of East Rd. Why not try the rumble strips first?

As Tom and Debbie have stated, the problem isn't Rt 20, it's the north/south traffic on East road blowing through a clearly visible light. I've said it before in other posts that the human attention span is short. Those lights can be seen flashing all the way from Jerico road to the north and all the way from the farm that's south of the intersection. Each direction is at least a half mile of visibility. The person sees the light, the brain acknowledges it and then dismisses it...on to the next thing that catches its attention. Rumble strips would bring the driver's focus back to the light.

I have so many pictures of accidents at that intersection including the fatal from 6/4/2004, an accident on 4/6/2005 and another one on 8/19/2005. I think it's irresponsible NOT to cut rumble strips into the road. Cutting strips into the road would at least be an attempt to improve the safety of the intersection. Rejecting the strips leaves the intersection as unsafe as it has always been. What makes more sense? CUT THE RUMBLE STRIPS INTO THE ROAD ALREADY, WOULD YA?!

Oct 19, 2011, 8:16pm Permalink
Matt Hendershott

If they plan to spend all this money on a roundabout without regrading the road, I would also suggest they build a landing zone for mercy flight off to the side, and a designated place to park fire trucks. The oak street roundabout was a terrible idea, not to mention knocking Ellicott street down to 2 lanes. And they have a 30 MPH speed limit going into the Batavia round about. Throw in a roundabout which semi's can't properly navigate any way, with a 55 mph speed limit then put this directly over a hill and the results should be less than excellent. I have to believe it would be cheaper, and more effective to either regrade the road, or move it over slightly to give a plain field of view to all 4 corners of that intersection.

Oct 19, 2011, 8:16pm Permalink
Matt Hendershott

I agree with Doug. That is a great idea and low cost. However cutting into east road would be at the town level. This is what the all mighty state of NY thinks is necessary.

Oct 19, 2011, 8:20pm Permalink
Doug Yeomans

BTW, I never drive under the Bethany Center Rd bridge if I absolutely don't have to. Rubble can be seen along the shoulder of Broadway (Rt 20) under the bridge where it constantly falls off.

Oct 19, 2011, 8:21pm Permalink
Doug Yeomans

Matt, that's the problem. It's like getting government involved with health care. The more they get involved in things they're not qualified to oversee, the worse the problem becomes. Just about anyone with a bit of common sense knows that a leaky roof can be fixed with a few new shingles and some roofing tar. The entire roof doesn't need to be re-engineered.

The cornfield to the SW corner has been an excellent landing strip for mercy flight..I have pictures!

BTW, East Rd is a county rd, not a town Rd even though Bethany plows it in the winter. They sub-contract to the county for snow removal. Thanks, Bethany, for slamming my mailbox every year :-)

Oct 19, 2011, 9:13pm Permalink
Bob Price

I don't know why regrading Rt 20 to the west so it's level is such a big deal-they were able to do it in East Bethany when they took bridge out and on Route 5 near Seven Springs Road when they deleted that bridge. Wait,wait.......this is NYS we're talking about-they need 7 people and 4 vehicles to cut one tree down(one running saw,others watching or for moral support) and 5 (yes,5)state DOT vehicles to follow a single tractor mowing the side of the road-this was on Ridge Rd. near Wrights Corners on Tuesday....

Oct 19, 2011, 10:16pm Permalink
Doug Yeomans

There's no need to level the top of the hill west of suicide corners. Vehicles cresting the hill have plenty of time to see the intersection before they get to it. The problem is north/south traffic running the light. RUMBLE STRIPS!

Oct 19, 2011, 10:30pm Permalink

Another possible set East Road. 20 to 30 feet would do it. That way both north and south East Road would come to a "T" at Route 20. (It works in Canada..)

OR....relocate the intersection farther to the East, farther away from the grade, just for good measure.

If the State D.O.T. constructs a round-about, they could rename the corner, "Suicide Corners With A Twist"

Oct 20, 2011, 12:05am Permalink
Janice Stenman

I can't agree with the writers more! There are rumble strips on RT77 on either side of 20A. They seem to work fine. My goodness, even texters couldn't ignore them!

Oct 20, 2011, 12:29am Permalink
Mark Potwora

Don't repave roads or fix bridges that need fixing..spend 2 mil on this BS....Who at DOT drank the round about kool-aid...seems like thats the states answer to traffic issues thru out the state..That and turning four lanes roads into 2 lanes...Ellicot and Oak...

Oct 20, 2011, 1:42am Permalink
tom hunt

A round about on a stretch of open highway? Is this guy from New England? I agree something has to be done at this dangerous intersection, but I don't think a round about is the answer. Alot of the suggestions above make more sense.

Oct 20, 2011, 2:24am Permalink
Sam Tambe Jr.

I'm thinking that rumble Strips and a "flashing/strobe" stop light would be a quicker and cheaper solution to this problem. Just sayin'

Oct 20, 2011, 6:17am Permalink
andrew martin

there are not many good intersections with route 20. anyone crossed 20 at Molasses Hill Road lately. I cross it often. traffic from the west on 20 are cresting a hill near the crossing making it very difficult to see from Molasses Hill Road. there are only stop signs at this intersection.

Oct 20, 2011, 7:39am Permalink
Kyle Couchman

Not only doi I agree with everyone here on how obtuse and stupid the State is being about this.... Let me throw another log in the fire I dont see us talking about. The property and the family living there......spend 1.8 million dollars AND remove a property from the tax rolls, no more property or school or any other form of taxes that would be paid. Its gone not to mention the costs of compensating the family currently there.

Isn't this just like the State of NY, seven years after a spate of grisly fatal accidents NOW they want to do something.

Oct 20, 2011, 7:51am Permalink
Melissa George

I agree with Janice - rumble strips on East would make the best sense to start with.
I also agree with Andrew since I cross over Rt. 20 at Molasses Hill Road twice a day and don't see a difference between this interestion and the one at Rt. 20 and East. Molasses Hill doesn't have a light.

Putting a traffic circle in that area where the semi's are traveling 60+ miles is just looking for trouble.
Why not make ever intersection we have a traffic circle....let motorists all drive in circles because that is what NYS Gov't seems to do a lot....we can just all go around and around and around.

Oct 20, 2011, 9:20am Permalink
Chris Charvella

The use of eminent domain here is ridiculous. Regrade the road, use rumble strips, whatever, but taking somebody's house to build a traffic circle? Really?

Oct 20, 2011, 9:37am Permalink
Rex Lampke

Lots of people over the years have been killed on the whole of route 20 all across the state. This intersection needs the rumble strips and strobes but no more. With the changes that the dot has done all across the state are crazy. Bridges that need repair are ignored, but dumb ideas like this abound! Whoever is incharge of the dot needs to be replaced asap. And stick eminent domain up someones butt!

Oct 20, 2011, 9:56am Permalink
George Richardson

Remember that guy who Cheney shot in the face? His name is Harry Whittington, he owned a city block in Austin and they took it by eminent domain to build a parking garage for the Convention Center. He's been fighting them in court for over a decade and every court decision has come back in his favor.
Eventually he is going to own fifty million dollars worth of taxpayer money and we will have to lease it back from him. They didn't need to take his property, but they did it anyway because they thought they could.

Oct 20, 2011, 5:37pm Permalink
Bob Price

Doug-have you ever tried crossing Rt 20 on East Rd w/ a tractor trailer? I have,and it's not fun. You just hope nobody comes flying over that crest to the west when you're in the intersection. Here's my plan-make it a 4-way stop! They did that to Rt 262 and Byron Rd a few years back after the double fatal there. No 4 way stop? Then add rumble strips on East Rd, a white strobe light in the red light for East Rd, and maybe reduce the speed 1/2 mile before East Rd. in each direction on Rt 20. No need for one of those roundabouts in the country-I can see the farm equipment trying to navigate it w/wide implements..... the DOT needs to have their head examined....... I say the homeowners get a petition going-maybe see if they can get a Senator(Chuck or Kirsten) to be on their side. You put roundabouts in a city or village,not in the country in 55mph speed zone......

Oct 20, 2011, 6:20pm Permalink
Phil Ricci

No government should have the right to take someone's property. Ever.

This does not need a circle, Oak street needed a circle. That was a mess, and I know that people hate it, but if you think what was there before was better, then I don't understand your logic.

This can be solved by other means. No one should lose their home.

Oct 20, 2011, 7:05pm Permalink
C. M. Barons

I believe Route 20 is a federal highway (note the zero). Placing a four-way stop would probably require an act of congress! Aside from that, regular travelers of route 20 will have a learning-curve addressing the change. ...Ask anyone who barreled through the intersection of 262 and Byron Road out of habit. If visibility is an issue (it has been cited) what happens when someone crests the hill and discovers six 18 wheelers backed up at the intersection? Sounds like a hazard on-par with the traffic circle.

Howard, how do I turn off the emoticons? I typed the numeral zero with a bracket and got 0).

Oct 20, 2011, 7:49pm Permalink
Bob Price

Ahhh,didn't even think of it possibly being a federal one....then I guess rumble strips win-along w/ maybe putting even bigger stop signs w/ reflective tape on its poles and maybe some blinking red lights on top of them. All that should be less than $10k and a day or two of work-give that a try first-if someone is dumb enough to go flying through rumble strips and not realize a stop is coming up,well, I guess you really shouldn't be driving......

Oct 20, 2011, 10:26pm Permalink
C. M. Barons

I would have guessed as much, Howard, however there is considerable indication to the contrary:…

I don't present this as argument- more as a historical puzzle. When was U.S. 20 ceded to New York? If memory serves, when I was much younger, the shields framing the route numbers 5 and 20 (indication of highway jurisdiction) were NOT the same. Route 5 which melds with 20 between Avon and Auburn has always been a state highway. The highway marker for federal highways is square with a white shield having three peaks on top. The highway marker for a New York State highway is square with a white shield having a single, rounded peak.…

...As with the shield for Rt. 20 in your picture accompanying the story.

As a rule, east-west federal highways are even numbered and use zero as the last digit.

Oct 21, 2011, 4:45am Permalink
Doug Yeomans

Bob Price, I have driven through that intersection thousands of times, literally. I've never had any problems there because I pay attention. Driver inattention and the lack of rumble strips is the real problem.

Oct 21, 2011, 6:10am Permalink
George Richardson

Of course it wouldn't suprise me if some people take the name Suicide Corners seriously and play a game of Russian Roulette everytime they barrel through the red light. There aren't a lot of big thrills in rural New York State, so I consider it a possibility although I'm just speculating, like always.

Oct 21, 2011, 9:37am Permalink
Thomas Douglas

First of all I would like to thank all of youb for your support and input in regards to this round about project. I would like to expand on Howards article. ( thanks Howard)

First I would like to address Lori Maher of the DOT comment about " Dot is looking at is the entire history of the intersection , not just a few years". In the letter dated 8/23/2004 that I recieved from DOT in response to the petition of 2004 that I sent them the DOT used 1997 thru 2002 and added the 2004 fatality for a total of basically 5 year to base their decision. I used 1997 thru 2011 for 14 YEARS for my research. But this isn't as enough? Guess it matters who is counting.

Second the funding and public meetings that I am refering to are being held by Genesee Transportation Council.(GTC) The GTC looks at projects, both highway and bridge and submits them for funding by the Feds under the Transportation Improvement Program (TIPS) project list. The GTC did this in March of 2010 and created a list of projects that DID NOT include the Roundabout. Accoding to the GTC web site that due to an approx. 40% reduction in Federal funding they are revising the project list. The revised list cut approx $6 million in highway projects and $11 million in bridge projects in Genesee County BUT AMAZINGLY ADDED A NEW HIGHWAY PROJECT, THE ROUND ABOUT , AT A COST OF OVER $2 MILLION ( and a lot of blank spaces in the cost column)

I currently am ciculating a petition to present to the GTC opposing the round about project. I will present this to the GTC at one of their public meetingson the revised project list next month.

If you want a copy of any of my information, a copy of the petition , etc. please contact me at

Have to go. More to follow including GTC meting dates and contacts

Oct 21, 2011, 11:46pm Permalink
Thomas Douglas

Tim, I absolutely agree with your alternatve solution scenario using other possible means to achieve a less expensive but effective solution. This is what Deb and I support, not a 2 million plus dollar fiasco.

How ever Tim, I dont totally agree with you about roundabouts being a possible solution at Suicide Corners

You mention that rumble strips wont eliminate the stop and goes. Neither will a roundabout, although the MVAs SHOULD occur at a lower speed and lesser angle. The people who stop and go will continue to do this no matter what is done.

As to the traffic light not being visible from eastbound, a roundabout would also have this problem as the trucks cresting the west hill would not have the sole right of way as they do now and would have to slow down (?) and may have to stop as they have to yield to traffic in the circle. This could cause a back up of traffic and reduce the sight line and stopping distance even further .

Posting a speed limit would not change for either. Speeders are speeders. The trucks have to pull a large grade on either side and make up for it cresting the valley on the west side or on the long stretch to the east. Now instead of flying through a four corners at a median speed of 62 MPH (NYS DOT stat) they would fly at 62 MPH into a 15 MPH designed roundabout hopefully negotiating it and being able to yield to traffic in the circle.

Other issues I have with a roundabout here is snow removal,visibility in winter,maitenance cost,driver error and /or lack of uderstanding of proper use, ( go watch City of Batvia roundabout,its all most amusing at times), drivers unfimiliar with area(a roundabout out in the middle of straight stretch of a State highway in a rural setting), sight being blocked in center circle by design, farm machinery and trucks having to transverse it approx 50 to 100 times daily, deficient bridges needing repair and THE COST !!! WE ARE BROKE!!!.

I dont usually put much faith in studies conducted by the agency using them. They ALWAYS seem to enforce what the agencies want to promote. Remember these people also brought you the Can of Worms in Rochester (Build and rebuild) and the new improved two lane Ellicott St with much enjoyed bike paths. Traffic was backed up from the monument to between Liberty and Swan when I came to work today at 5 PM

As you stated the combination of inexpensive fixes would work when all used together. As I said before we are all for this . How ever I am very adament for the rumble strips. This is do the fact that my son and I were standing in the yard and watched the double fatal occur. They were northbound and and got struck by a eastbound semi. I seen them as they went thru the intersection never reducing speed or applying brakes, just talking to each other. They never seen the semi or the corner. Ironically they had just gone through the corner earlier , stopped at a residence on the East Rd and were returning shortly after. One victim lived on a nearby Rd. Rumble strips would have averted this fatality. During the 30 plus years we have lived here we have personnally witnessed this scenario countless times,but by the grace of God the MVas were averted or less severe

Thank you for your support and input

This is a copy of reply to Tim Hens in the comments in the Poll section

Oct 21, 2011, 11:59pm Permalink

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