State pushes back Route 59-Airmont Road fix until 2011

(Original Publication: February 7, 2007)


By the numbers
Accidents on Route 59 within three-tenths of a mile of its intersection with Airmont Road have been steadily dropping:
2001 76
2002 68
2003 54
2004 40
2005 35
2006 33
The number of accidents involving injuries near the intersection has fluctuated over the years, but there have been no fatal accidents in these six years:
2001 30
2002 19
2003 10
2004 22
2005 22
2006 20
Source: state DOT

AIRMONT - Frank Iozzo has some advice for drivers thinking about heading to the intersection of Airmont Road and Route 59.

"Stay away," he said.

The Suffern man passes through the intersection daily - to get to the supermarket, onto the New York State Thruway or to meet friends for breakfast - and said traffic there was getting worse.

"You're backed up," Iozzo said. "You just can't get through."

The state Department of Transportation had planned to improve the busy interchange in mid-2009, but now doesn't expect to start construction until 2011.

An average of 20,000 vehicles travel on Route 59 near Airmont Road every day, and nearly 30,000 cars and trucks approach the intersection daily on North Airmont Road, according to a DOT count.

The project would add a second through lane on Route 59 in each direction for a short distance on either side of Airmont Road to move more cars and trucks through the intersection, DOT spokesman Josh Ribakove said. After the light, traffic would merge back to one lane in each direction. The DOT also would replace the traffic signal and add sidewalks.

Richard Peters, the DOT's senior planner for the Hudson Valley, said the agency lacked the staff and consultants to design the project.

Its first commitment, Peters said, was to complete numerous projects state voters approved as part of a $2.9 billion transportation bond in 2005. One of those projects is to construct a new, safer intersection connecting Short Clove Road to Route 9W in Haverstraw village.

"It really goes back to our ability to deliver," Peters said of the Route 59-Airmont Road project, which would cost from $3 million to $5 million, and likely would be completed by the end of 2012.

Two years ago, the DOT estimated it would cost $1.5 million.

At that time, Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence said the improvement was important enough that the town would pay for the planning and design costs to get it done sooner. The state would then have reimbursed the town.

Peters said the town and DOT hadn't pursued the issue, and he foresaw problems with the arrangement. They would have to agree on a design consultant. If the town were the lead agency, it would have to go through the federal and state process, which calls for selection based on qualifications. Price is secondary.

"It's not that it's not possible," Peters said yesterday. "It's just that it gets complex for the town and it gets complex for us."

St. Lawrence was traveling yesterday and was unavailable for comment. Phil Tisi, St. Lawrence's assistant, said the town was still committed to helping with the project, but he could not speak to the issue of the design process.

There is concern because a developer wants to add nearly 20,000 square feet of retail space to a 13,900-square-foot strip mall on the north side of Route 59.

Airmont is still considering the proposal, which most likely would draw more traffic to the congested intersection.

Though that intersection is considered one of Rockland's worst bottlenecks, accidents have steadily dropped there since 2001.

Six years ago, 76 accidents were reported within three-tenths of a mile on Route 59. Last year, Ribakove said, there were 33.

"Maybe people are driving better. It's possible that congestion is forcing people to drive slower," Ribakove said, somewhat facetiously.

One line of thinking follows that busy roads make it harder for drivers to engage in high-risk behavior, like speeding, or that drivers pay more attention when they know the road ahead is jammed.

Drivers who use the road said other changes might have helped. They said that in recent years the timing of the traffic light at the intersection had been adjusted, traffic lanes were re-striped and drivers were banned from making a left turn out of the strip mall containing Bagel Boys.

Since 2002, the number of accidents with injuries - both minor and serious - has hovered around 20. Just 10 such crashes were reported in 2003, and three times as many in 2001.

Iozzo said he hadn't noticed any difference. People sure don't seem to be driving any slower, he said.

In fact, Iozzo said he thought the intersection led to aggressive actions.

"Road rage comes in," Iozzo said. "They get impatient. They don't want to wait so they'll go through a yellow light or the light turns red and they try to make it."