At a community meeting Thursday, May 31, Mayor Kathy Sheehan addressed the Ezra Prentice community’s fight for clean air in their residential area, noting the times they have physically blocked truck traffic or showed up to rally at her office.
“I’d love to come to you and say I can stop truck traffic, but I can’t,” Sheehan said. “We have rules and regulations and laws about what municipalities can and cannot do, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything.”
The community has drawn attention to health and safety concerns regarding heavy vehicle traffic and the nearby oil train presence for nearly five years now, said AVillage Inc…’s Willie White.
“If you’re not screaming and yelling the results are not gonna come,” he said.
In a recent study completed by the Radix Center, the nonprofit’s representative Stacy Pettigrew reminded meeting attendees, Ezra Prentice community members reported a 40 percent asthma rate while Albany County reports at 11 percent.
The mayor told the community that she has met with representatives from the Port of Albany, Callanan Industries and County Waste–referring to them as three of the “largest creators of truck traffic” through the community–about finding alternative routes to do their business.
Sheehan also announced that the city’s recycling trucks have been ordered to take alternative routes on their way from Albany to the County Waste facility. They will only be authorized to travel within the community on recycling pick up days.
“The City of Albany is not going to be part of this problem,” she said. “If you see them, take a picture and send it to me.”
This announcement, though small, received applause from community members who attended the meeting to hear a draft report of the S. Pearl St. traffic study completed by the Capital District Transportation Committee.
The CDTC presented a preliminary study to the community back in January when they estimated roughly 1,600 heavy vehicles passed through Ezra Prentice on a daily basis–more than the estimated 1,000 counted by residents in the summer of 2016. In Thursday night’s presentation, data collection taken from the NYS Department of Transportation landed at 1,652 heavy vehicles.
The CDTC also tracked the heavy vehicles travel patterns, both north and southbound from 1st St. to Corning Hill Rd., to evaluate what steps could be taken to minimize traffic.
“787 entraps a lot of vehicles,” one official noted.
The study found that an estimated 512, or 66 percent, of heavy vehicles traveling northbound on S. Pearl St./NY 32 go to the I-787 northbound access roadway. An estimated 547, 62 percent, of heavy vehicles traveling southbound on S. Pearl St., come from I-787 southbound access roadway/Green St.
An estimated 770 heavy vehicles per day (47 percent) are passing Ezra Prentice in both directions to begin and/or end their trip at locations along S. Pearl St./NY 32. Roughly 569 heavy vehicles (34 percent) are traveling in and out of Albany to conduct business in both directions each day and 279 (17 percent) are traveling to and from S. Port Rd.
The CDTC came up with four reasonable recommendations in their report, from most likely to least likely to be implemented:
- A. The committee identified and outlined 22 different alternate routes that could best serve the community as well as businesses–accounting for distance, travel time and hills.
- B. An outline of supportive programs that could be used to diminish harmful effects of heavy vehicle traffic, including:
- Enforcement: Ensuring that “regular, highly visible enforcement efforts” to lessen dangerous driving practice (speeding, distracted driving or following too closely) and make sure vehicles are in compliance with all regulations, “such as safety and emissions equipment.”
- Education: Providing information about the negative effects heavy traffic has had–and continues to have–on the community to industrial/commercial land owners along S. Pearl St./NY 32 and in the city of Albany, as well as independent heavy vehicle operators.
- Emissions Reduction: Pursuing “opportunities to deploy vehicles with emissions-reducing equipment” or using alternative fuel, hybrid or electric vehicles.
- C. Restricting turning movement access at the S. Port Rd. & S. Pearl St./NY 32 intersection to make it a less attractive option for heavy vehicles turning into the Port of Albany. This recommendation would require the installation of new signs at the S. Port Rd. and S. Pearl St./NY 32 intersection and new directional signs to and from I-787, if necessary. It will need the support of the DOT as well as the Federal Highway Administration “to be in compliance with all current local, state and federal regulations.” The CDTC estimates the planning level cost at $50,000.
- D. In what officials at the meeting called a “bonafide transportation infrastructure project,” their final recommendation is to reconstruct S. Port Rd., Normanskill St., Raft St., Smith Blvd. and Boat St. as a bypass route. The planning level cost to complete this project is estimated between $12 and $19 million. “The pavements are in poor condition, there are multiple railroad crossings, it lacks adequate pavement markings and signage, and there are tight turning radii at several intersections,” the report states.
There will be a public review period on the study through June 30th, after which a final report will be completed. Comments may be submitted to email@example.com and it should be noted that the CDTC cannot receive email from yahoo.com addresses.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation also briefly checked in with residents to announce that they would be back to continue mobile air monitoring around the community now that the weather has warmed up, walking the South End neighborhoods with data collecting backpacks.
They will compile their final data in August. The department was expected to present their findings to the community by then, however DEC representative Brian Frank suggested the Division of Air Resources take some time to review the data and come to the residents with concrete information in the fall. White agreed.
“We’ll wait for them. We want to work with everybody and make sure we get the correct data,” he told The Alt.