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May 30, 2019 - 3:20pm

Alabama roundabout hearing: residents voice safety concerns over icy roads, speeding big rigs, plus fumes, cost

Above, Scott Kern, who lives on Alleghany Road, was one of the most vocal in opposing the state’s proposal to put a roundabout at the intersection of Route 77 and Ledge Road.

ALABAMA – Scott Kern minced no words when he shared his concerns and disapproval of the state’s proposal to build a roundabout at the intersection of Route 77 and Ledge Road during a public hearing Wednesday night at the Alabama Fire Hall.

Kern lives a few hundred feet south of the intersection, and while he acknowledges there are frequent accidents there, he also says there are much more practical and cost-effective ways to address the problem.

Like all those who spoke in opposition to the proposal, Kern’s concern was over the fact that traffic (especially truckers) would be coming around a curve and down a hill and face the intersection just in front of them.

“You are asking truck drivers (who would be accelerating after leaving the 40 mile per hour speed zone in Indian Falls) to slow down in winter on slippery roads," Kern said. "Then coming up the hill, they don’t have a running start after having to slow down for the roundabout.

"It seems to me the money could be better spent than wasting it on a roundabout in the middle of nowhere.”

He advised representatives from the NYS Department of Transportation to give this a whole lot more thought.

“You’ve given no consideration to my neighbors on the corner who now put up with noise and pollution, and will be faced with even more when vehicles are slowing and speeding up,” Kern said. “The guy on the corner is going to have headlights in his bedroom at all hours of the night.

“I know people have died on that corner. I was there when they died. But it would be better if you took that $1.8 million and paved the road. Just give it some more thought.”

The public hearing began with a time for residents to ask questions from 5:30 to 6 p.m.

Frank Billittier, regional design engineer for the NYSDOT, introduced members of the design team and explained the roundabout was a proposal to improve safety at the intersection.

The engineer said in the last five years there have been 34 crashes, five times the number they expect to see at a similar type intersection. Eleven of the crashes involved an injury and one was a fatality. He said all the right-angle crashes involved an injury, and the roundabout would simplify right turns.

The design team looked at low-cost safety enhancements, such an all-way stop and a light-controlled intersection. They studied grades and said the hill just south of the intersection was not steep.

They also took a look at how long it took a truck to stop on a 3- to 4-percent grade when it was traveling at 55 mph. The distance was 495 feet, compared to 553 feet when on a 6-percent grade.

Billittier showed a video of a roundabout in Kansas to demonstrate how an oversize vehicle could navigate a roundabout by running up on the concrete apron. The video also showed how a snowplow would remove snow from a roundabout.

Construction of the roundabout would begin in the spring. Both Route 77 and Ledge Road would be closed to traffic for four to six weeks. Traffic would be detoured using Route 5 and Route 63. Road closure would be during July and August so as not to impede school buses.

Tom Finch, from the NYSDOT Northeast Regional Office, said five properties would be affected by the acquisition of land to build the roundabout. All property owners will be contacted and an appraiser will develop a fair market agreement for each property.

Property owners will be asked to sign the agreement, and in the case they fail to do so, filing of the map allows contractors to begin work.

Jill Klotzbach, a member of the Alabama Town Board, was the first to speak, making it very clear she opposed the roundabout.

“My family travels that intersection several times a day,” Klotzbach said. “I believe this intersection has features which makes it unsatisfactory for a roundabout. It’s on a hill and a sharp curve. Cars waiting for the right-of-way to enter the roundabout might be jeopardized by fast-moving vehicles coming down the hill.

"There is an intersection in the city where the road is flat and the speed limit is 35 mph and there are still crashes. Our farmers are all concerned about the difficulty navigating the roundabout with their large equipment.

“As a town board, we wrote letters to our legislature expressing our disapproval. The state has not listened to the expertise of local highway superintendents. What about the property values of the resident who will have the roundabout 30 feet from his house?

"The state keeps waving safety statistics at us, but do you have statistics of how safe a property owner feels with a roundabout 30 feet from his house?”

Attorney Reed Whiting spoke on behalf of his clients, Robert and LeNora Thompson, who live on the northeast corner of Route 77 and Ledge Road.

“They have many concerns about property devaluation and traffic lights flashing across their property all hours of the night,” Whiting said. “There will be jake-braking trucks, and any truck which enters at a high rate of speed is likely to travel near my client’s home.”

The attorney suggested rumble strips were far less expensive and far more effective than a roundabout.

Kathryn Thurber, who lives on Ledge Road, was upset with the fact Billittier said this was a public hearing, yet it was indicated they were going to take the property.

“It’s a done deal, and we don’t have any say,” Thurber said. “You said you are started construction to be thoughtful of school buses, but what about the farmers, who are at the peak of their season then? They need to move their equipment through there, back and forth to their farms.”

Lorna Klotzbach is a member of the Alabama Planning Board and she posed the question, “Is there anything that could be said to change your mind?”

“There are six current and former highway superintendents and workers in this room who have offered input and you have ignored them,” Klotzbach said. “You didn’t study the intersection in wintertime – you consulted charts.

"This intersection has a hill, curve, wind and heavy truck traffic in both directions going the speed limit of 55 mph. What happens if you are a car stuck in the roundabout waiting for a chance to move out and a truck comes down the hill at 55 mph?

“You are spending $1.8 million in a state where people are moving out in record numbers, yet you refuse to consider local input.”

She added it was rude and insulting to show a video from Kansas where roads are flat. 

“You have acted in a patronizing fashion to us,” she added. “You say we just don’t like change. We are not from the dinosaur era. We’d like to ask you to consider accepting our input, rather than come here and tell us it’s a done deal.”

She also quoted a comment from Alabama Highway Superintendent Bob Kehlenbeck, who said he’s been there on that hill in winter with the highway superintendent from Pembroke, shoveling sand under a truck that couldn’t make it up.”

She added at the end of the meeting how insulting it was to the residents of the Town of Alabama to discover the state had staked a state trooper and sheriff’s deputy outside the door. 

Julie Scarborough, who lives at Maple and Ledge roads, said she visited Scotland and saw many roundabouts there.

“But none of them were on a hill,” she said. “We live in one of the most expensive states and there are a lot of more economical options you didn’t even consider.”

Travis Warner is the resident on the southeast corner who will be faced with the roundabout 30 feet from his home. He said he doesn’t have air conditioning in his home and leaves the windows open in the summer.

He fears the increased noise from vehicles, especially trucks and motorcycles, jake braking and accelerating out of the roundabout will make it impossible for him to enjoy the summer. He is also concerned about increased exhaust and air pollution.

In addition, Warner said the snow which blows through that intersection will blow out of the roundabout and drift in the road within 10 minutes.

Jeff Kelkenberg, who lives on Marble Road a quarter mile north, has between 400,000 and 450,000 miles on the road, hauling loads as wide as 18 feet. He said big rigs these days have steerable rear ends and farmers have equipment, even when folded up, which is 18 feet wide.

“It sounds like the state didn’t really look at what the community wants,” Kelkenberg said. “They could put in a traffic light, with no turn on red. It appears we need to stand together. We need to unite and stand together in that intersection.”

Wes Klotzbach was concerned that traffic approaching the intersection from the south has been coming out of a speed zone.

“Traffic behind you wants to pull out and pass, then you see that roundabout at the bottom of the hill and climb on the brakes, and you get rear-ended by the traffic behind you,” he said.

He said the majority of accidents are a result of drivers who fail to yield right of way, and asked what was so magical about a roundabout that it would make them yield, when they won’t in a normal traffic pattern.

Farmer Dennis Phelps, who also lives on Ledge Road, called the proposal “horrific.”

“You are supposed to be engineers and professionals, yet you can’t see the danger in a school bus in the roundabout with a truck coming down the hill which can’t stop,” Phelps said. “Slowing them down would be the smartest thing you could do.”

Richard Rudolph was highway superintendent in the Town of Pembroke for 32 years and plowed Route 77 from Route 5 for 25 years.

“One of the worse spots I had was that hill in a sleet storm,” Rudolph said. “I’m not against roundabouts, but I don’t think that’s the place for one. Turning lanes and flashing lights would do the job.”

Another resident asked if the DOT had ever seen a pea-picking machine.

“They’re huge,” she said, adding wryly “...Mommas and poppas, don’t let your children grow up to be engineers.”

John Anderson said with the winters experienced in this area, if a truck is slowed down to 10 miles per hour through the roundabout, it will never make it up the hill. He recommended a stop-and-go light and rumble strips.

Ron Thurber asked what statistics were given for other options. He asked for data showing statistics of similar intersections with a stop light and rumble strips.

“I drive truck, and common sense needs to prevail,” he said. “My biggest concern is for the residents of that corner. If the state doesn’t offer them a whole chunk of change for their properties, it will be a crime.”

Eighteen-year-old Seth Doctor, an Oakfield/Alabama student, said he goes to school with a lot of kids who go through that intersection every day and he was concerned they could possibly lose their lives.

“I’ve been driving for two years and I know it’s not easy to stop in snow and ice, especially with a truck,” he said.

Annette Johnson is a volunteer Alabama firefighter who sent the DOT office on Jefferson Road in Rochester a petition with 1,079 names protesting the roundabout. She has another petition with 300 more signatures ready to send.

“I have responded to accidents there and in five years, there was one fatality,” she said. “There are far worse intersections in this county, and we don’t need a roundabout (for them).”

Residents have until June 10 to file comments with the NYSDOT Region 4, 1530 Jefferson Road, Rochester, NY 14623.

Frank Billittier, regional design engineer for the NYSDOT, at a public hearing Wednesday at Alabama Fire Hall on the state’s intent to put a roundabout at the intersection of Route 77 and Ledge Road.

Lorna Klotzbach, a member of the Alabama Town Planning Board, reads her statement in opposition to the roundabout.

Kathryn Thurber, of Ledge Road, was another Alabama resident who spoke out against the proposed roundabout.

Brian Graz
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Where are our elected representatives???
Hawley and Ranzenhofer should be totally involved... enacting an injunction against starting the construction, and ultimately exposing the nonsense of the State's knee-jerk remedy as real "stupid", and largely unacceptable to the local residents (taxpayers).

Frank Billittier (regional design engineer for the NYSDOT) and his design team are true Albany bureaucrat robots. They don't know what they are doing... and they don't seem to care about the residents (taxpayers) who they are supposed to represent... as there have been many who have spoken out in opposition (most who spoke this night were totally reasonable and informed).

So mister expert Billitier, should NYS mandated a round-about at every intersection that has had 1 fatal crash in the last 5 years?... WTH!

Christopher Putnam
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Joined: Oct 11 2012 - 1:05pm

I would remind the residents of Alabama, that sometimes, actions speak louder than words. Its your town, your safety, your decision. Take the decision into your hands. They have patronized you by saying it was a public hearing, when the decision is already made, and the plans already laid. Use those 18 foot wide pieces of farm equipment to block them from starting construction. Our country started with people taking a stand against government idiocy, a physical stand. Throwing tea in a harbor and fighting a revolution. If it is really YOUR town, and you want it to stay that way, get together and take a stand.

Short version: The state just told ya'll your hicks, and that they know better than you do, whats good for you. You goin'a take that?

Ray Richardson
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Joined: Oct 25 2018 - 10:32am

I guess I'm not the only one.

Daniel Norstrand
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Joined: Jul 18 2016 - 10:27am

It's nice to see the people in the article as well as my fellow commenter's pushback against the State politburo. I'd like to see the same pushback on the ill conceived 50 MILLION DOLLAR DEBACLE county jail. I went to a meeting a couple weeks ago about it and none of my concerns were in the media. The Jail is not needed but much like the dreaded roundabout, facts are treated in a roundabout way by those who have their own interests at heart & the people be damned.

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