Judge: Rail crossing to stay closed


Recorder News Staff

FONDA -- A judge recently ordered to keep the Center Street railroad crossing in the village closed to motor vehicles, and to restrict the Broadway crossing to just southbound traffic.

The village will have to make that portion of Broadway a one-way street-- or the crossing will be closed entirely.

State Department of Transportation Acting Administrative Law Judge Robert A. Rybak issued those recommendations to Commissioner Joan McDonald, and a designee signed the order on her behalf to put it into effect.

Local officials were delivered the order Tuesday. It relates to CSX Transportation Inc.'s late December 2011 request that DOT close the crossings, citing safety concerns. A pair of public hearings was held on the issue in both March and May of 2012, and locals have awaited a decision since.

"There is no question that there are safety issues associated with the Broadway and Center Street crossings, and that these crossings are redundant," Rybak wrote in the decision, noting they're just a tenth of a mile apart. "The arguments put forward to support keeping both of these crossings open, while well-intentioned and sincere, are not based on sound engineering principles, and have not addressed the safety issues raised by CSX and [DOT]."

"That was the opinion of an administrative law judge, and we will follow through with his recommendation," said DOT Spokesman James Piccola.

The Center Street crossing is already closed, and has been since DOT's reconstruction of the Route 30A bridge over the CSX railroad. During that time, the Broadway crossing was restricted to southbound traffic, but it was re-opened once the bridge construction was complete.

It's unclear whether village officials will seek an appeal of the order, as none of those contacted by The Recorder Tuesday, including Mayor William Peeler, returned calls seeking comment.

Mohawk town Supervisor Greg Rajkowski said he was disappointed by the decision, as it will impact village residents, and both county and town operations.

Park Street houses the county's Department of Public Works, Annex Building, and Old County Courthouse, as well as the town's municipal building, court and highway garage.

"We tried the best we could," Rajkowski said. "I went to as many meetings I could attend. We tried to keep both [crossings] open, and then we put all our eggs in one basket to keep Broadway open both ways. Unfortunately, it didn't go our way."

Rybak's order allows for pedestrian traffic at both crossings, and attempts to address emergency management concerns through provisions that would open Broadway to north- and southbound traffic should the county declare a state of emergency.

"Is it the worst-case scenario? No, because the crossing is still open," said county Emergency Management Director Adam Schwabrow. "From an emergency management standpoint, it's not bad considering where the fire department is coming from, and helps us flood-wise."

"Am I happy about it? No," Schwabrow continued. "But I guess this is the compromise the judge came up with."

The apparent sticking point for Rybak to keep Broadway partially open was a question raised at the March 2012 public hearing -- "What if something happens on the Route 30A bridge which requires it to be closed? If both crossings and the bridge are closed, there will be no way to get from one side of the village to the other."

Rybak recognized Fonda "faces some unique issues" in the way of traffic congestion and flooding.

"Although construction of the new Route 30A bridge may address the congestion issue, it will not and cannot address the flooding issue," Rybak wrote.

The judge identified two possible solutions -- in addition to the reduction of one-way traffic on Broadway, he also suggested making Park Street one-way.

Rybak's original June 28 order would have forced village officials to choose between those options as a prerequisite to prevent complete closure of the Broadway crossing, but it was amended August 15.

Clifford Thomas, acting director of the Office of Modal Safety and Security, amended the order.

"There is no testimony in the record, engineering or otherwise, indicating that re-posting Park Street as a one-way road would adequately address the safety issues associated with the Broadway crossing," Clifford wrote.

Clifford, who signed the order on behalf of McDonald, ordered alterations at the Broadway crossing to accommodate the order. All costs will be borne by CSX.

The order also gives the village four months to work with DOT to design and install signs, pavement markings and curbing at the roadway approaches, and DOT will pay for it.

All of the alterations need to be installed and completed by Dec. 31, 2014, the order says.