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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 4, 2008

In wake of RR accident
Town talks of building new road

By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — While still waiting to hammer out funding from the state, Supervisor Thomas Dolin asked the town engineer yesterday to hold off on surveys the town board authorized on Monday.

At a special meeting Monday, the board agreed to spend up to $10,000 to survey the proposed site of a new road. The road would connect Youmans Road and Great View Terrace so that the CSX railroad crossing on Youmans Road can be closed.

Town, state, and railroad authorities discussed closing the crossing after a near-death accident on Nov. 22 in which Peter Salerno and his two daughters were hit by two trains within one minute of each other. On Nov. 28, Salerno was charged with failing to stop at the crossing, a misdemeanor. (See related story.)

The $400,000 project — a 1,700-foot connector road — would be paid for by the state only after a six-month process with public hearings. The town board will not decide until its Dec. 10 meeting whether to request the crossing be closed.

“We’re having some difficulty working this out” with the state’s Department of Transportation, Dolin told The Enterprise Wednesday. After the board meeting Monday, he said, he reviewed e-mails between town engineer R. Mark Dempf, of Stantech Engineering, and DOT officials.

“It’s inconclusive whether or not we’d get reimbursed,” Dolin said. He said that he asked Stantech to hold off on the surveying until he talks to the board.

“We’re ahead of DOT. They haven’t actually started a project,” Dolin said. “We hope to get reassurances from DOT on Friday. We should know who’s going to pay for what by Friday. We just don’t have those kinds of funds.”

Reports of the crossing’s danger and potential for accident had been on record with the town for several years. The one-lane crossing has a steep slope on either side, and no lights or guard rails. Residents in two homes on Youmans Road on the west side of the track become trapped on the dead-end street whenever trains stop at the crossing.

Dempf said at Monday’s meeting that the temporary road over a farm lane proposed last week by Dolin would be inadequate for passenger cars or large vehicles like plows or oil trucks. The land is owned by the Lavalley family. Wetlands, a steep slope, and power lines make the farm lane impassable for Lavalley’s tractors during part of the year, he said.

A more permanent road, to be built in the spring, would parallel the farm lane on lands owned by the Gurins.

Highway Superintendent Darrell Duncan said Monday that only a pickup truck could be used to plow a town-improved farm lane because of the lane’s size and slope.

“The easiest temporary fix is to do it on something the town owns,” Duncan said.

Dempf noted that the farm lane runs across the front of the Lavalley home.

Town Attorney Michael Mackey suggested that the town use the site of the permanent road for the temporary access, as long as the town can get the 50-foot deed needed from the landowners.

Julie Mazzaferro, a real estate agent representing the Gurins, said that they would work with the town.

“They want to build a house for themselves off the road,” she said.

DOT’s decision

Mackey explained that only the DOT can close the crossing. The town must request the closure, he said. The request will trigger a six-month process, including public hearings, by which the DOT will make a decision on whether or not to close the crossing, he said.

Dempf worried that the town would incur construction costs of up to $400,000 while it builds a connector road. He said that DOT funding may have “strings attached,” and that he has seen other projects that were to receive federal funding lose the funding after the fact.

“The cost to eliminate [the crossing] is the state’s cost,” Mackey said. According to the state’s transportation law, he said, monies should first be paid from the state treasury. Any engineering or surveying done in the interim would be the town’s liability if the state decides not to close the crossing, he said.

“Our exposure is in doing the preliminary, temporary measures,” Mackey said.

“How much money do we think we can commit to this?” Dolin asked the board. “We’re trying to be sensitive to these two families [on Youmans Road]. They both have young children.”

Board member Richard Reilly likened the surveying to research routinely done to determine the feasibility for a new water district. Board member Peg Neri agreed.

The board will hold its sixth meeting with the DOT on Friday, Dolin said. At its monthly meeting on Dec. 10, the board will decide whether or not to officially request the crossing closing.

“I would prefer to wait until next week,” Dolin said.

“I’m an ‘I’d like to get things done’ sort of person, but it’s up to you,” Mackey said.

Dolin said that the DOT representatives had been cooperative and responsive, but that, at previous meetings, they may not have known how much money could be dedicated to the project.

“This gets more difficult with snow, right?” Reilly asked, noting the mild weather predicted for this week. “I think we should get crews out there.”

Dempf said that surveys of the road site and topographical information could be gathered immediately, but he said that the meeting Friday with the DOT would be “pretty important.”

Reilly asked if the board should authorize Dolin to negotiate with the land owners. Mackey said that the board should wait until the formal closure request.

“I appreciate that,” Dolin said to Reilly. “I’ve been nervous about how much I could do.”

Mazzaferro told the board that the Gurins will agree to the board’s requests “as long as they get their 12 lots off it.”

“She has a pending subdivision,” Dolin said. The subdivision is before the planning board, but it will be approved once a water supply has been determined, Dolin said.

Dolin said that Salerno’s arrest will have no effect on how the town will proceed with the connector road and the crossing closure. He said that he is concerned with the long-term safety of the two families on Youmans Road.

“I don’t see how [the crossing] could be improved to the point it could be safe,” Dolin said. “The trains are allowed to go 50 miles per hour.”

This week, CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan told The Enterprise, “We’re always looking to close grade crossings.”

On Wednesday, Dolin said that the DOT may decide to put in safety gates and crossing lights rather than close the crossing. Those improvements would cost about $250,000, Dolin said.

“The difficulty with that is that sometimes the trains stop [at the crossing]. That raises issues like access by emergency vehicles to these two homes,” Dolin said. “To me, the better solution would be an alternate exit, an alternate route.”

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