By ALISSA SCOTT
For more than 30 years, people in Amsterdam have come to know one-way streets in the heart of the city as customary. When all that changes next week, some are concerned about increased traffic accidents.
“But, people who grew up in the ’60s knew the old traffic patterns,” city historian Robert von Hassseln reasoned. “And what happened to them when they changed? We’re here because of them, aren’t we?”
A project that will allow additional two-way traffic in downtown Amsterdam is set to open for motorists Oct. 1, though many deadlines set before it have come and gone.
The Traffic Reconfiguration and Signal Improvement project, a community-driven idea that began in 2002, will accommodate two-way traffic on the segment of westbound Route 5 between Liberty Street and West Main Street through downtown.
It also reconfigures two-way traffic operation on the stretch of northbound Route 30/Route 67 between East Main Street and westbound Route 5.
“We’re going to meet with the mayor Wednesday, and we’re going over how we’re going to do this,” James Piccola, regional public information officer of the Department of Transportation, said. “I’m not sure yet what the mayor wants to do, but there’s a certain way we need to open [the roadways.] But we’re planning on opening Oct. 1 unless something comes up.”
During a lightning storm last month, some of the signals were damaged and DOT had to re-do the work on them, Piccola said, pushing back the deadline further.
Piccola said that, with the use of the city’s fire and police forces, all cones will be removed and roads will be opened simultaneously as they work toward making sure everyone understands the new patterns.
“Between the contractor’s people, the police and DOT people, we’re going to work together,” Piccola said.
Mayor Ann Thane said she expects people to be taking advantage of the two-way traffic on Oct. 1, but because it’s a state project, city officials have little control over when exactly it will open.
The main purpose behind the changes, Thane said, is to drive traffic back toward the downtown. When the mall was built in the middle of the city, it diverged traffic around downtown, and those areas suffered.
“The idea is to bring a friendlier traffic pattern downtown,” Thane said. “I know we have people who get lost coming to City Hall, which should be a straight shot.
“And we would like to route traffic back downtown because since the pattern changed, commercial businesses downtown declined. People just don’t go there any more. This will allow for freer access downtown.”
Thane said she doesn’t think people should have a problem maneuvering through the area, as long as they remain alert.
“As long as people obey the signs and the markings on the roads and the signals, they should be fine,” Thane said.
Seven traffic signals within the area have been replaced and brought to current standards, another major part of this project, Piccola said. The traffic signal at the intersection of East Main and Market streets has been replaced with all-way stop control.
This project also improved safety, and “addressed traffic patterns in the downtown area making the downtown area more accessible,” he said.
Right now, Piccola said there are no future projects for DOT in Amsterdam, but the state Thruway Authority is scheduled to begin construction of the Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge over the canal in 2014.
“We’re excited to get this going and I know residents are excited to see it finished,” Piccola said.