By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
FONDA -- Village officials and the state Department of Transportation are still in disagreement over plans to reduce the Broadway rail crossing to one-way traffic.
A public hearing was held with DOT Acting Administrative Law Judge Robert A. Rybak Thursday to alleviate concerns of local officials who sought clarification on how the crossing would operate in an emergency situation.
"This hearing is being held in response to a request by the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and the village of Fonda to modify the department's order relating to directing traffic in an emergency, when traffic would be able to travel northbound in an emergency and who can declare an emergency," Rybak said.
The DOT order from Aug. 15, 2013, states that in lieu of closing the public crossing at Broadway, it will be altered to accommodate one-way southbound vehicular traffic providing the northbound traffic access in certain emergency circumstances.
In order for the crossing to remain open the village of Fonda would have to establish the Broadway crossing as a one-way southbound road and if fails to do so the crossing would be closed.
While the village has passed a resolution accepting the judge's order, Mayor William Peeler told Rybak he had concerns regarding DOT's plans, which call for asphalt to be removed on the northbound side to make it a one-way. He said that it poses a safety hazard when the village is in an emergency or evacuation situation.
He asked the judge to reconsider the wording in the order to allow for two-lane access during a disaster.
Peeler suggested that rather than removing the pavement, the DOT consider putting flexible bollards in place that could be removed during an emergency.
However, Robert E Rice Jr., director of operations of DOT's Region 2, said leaving the pavement would confuse motorists into thinking that the lane was still usable.
"While the [Route 30A] bridge was under construction we had concrete barriers in place to facilitate the southbound movement and with disturbing frequency folks were still using that to go northbound," Rice said. "Without some removal of the infrastructure of the northbound lane you are going to create a confusing scenario where folks are going to think there is enough pavement there that they can still get through northbound."
He added that while the area does flood, an analysis was done to show an evacuation of 500 vehicles could be done via one lane within 30 minutes but Peeler disagreed.
"I have lived here all my life and when the waters rise, you don't have 30 minutes to get out," Peeler said. "I am talking about saving lives."
Rybak noted Rice's concerns but said the bollards would minimize people trying to go north.
However he told Peeler he didn't think the DOT would accept his recommendation unless Peeler provided testimony from an engineer.
"You are not an expert and even if I recommend the bollards they are not going to grant it," Rybak said. "I had recommended that Park Street be reduced to a one-way to cut the traffic but the department rejected my recommendation because there was no engineering study."
Office of Emergency Management director Jeffrey Smith was also present during the hearing and asked Rybak to change wording in the ruling that defines the type of officer authorized to direct traffic in the case of a disaster. Rather than "police officer," Smith asked for it to change to "peace officer," which would allow the county to utilize fire police.
Peeler asked for it to be expanded further to allow for highway service personnel or other authorized personnel to be allowed to monitor the crossing, in case emergency services are not available but Rybak said there should be limitations.
Smith also asked for a change in the wording that defines the type of emergency that would allow northbound traffic. Currently the ruling states that it has to be a "declared disaster emergency," which Smith said should be "justified emergency."
"Should there be an accident at the intersection of 30A and Park Street, with serious injuries or a fatality and if that intersection was closed for an hour, that wouldn't be a declared disaster, but everyone would be landlocked until the accident was cleared," Smith said adding that any emergency service personnel at the scene should be able to make the call.
Rice had no objections to either of the requests.