A report released last week from Mount Pleasant’s engineer recommended that the railroad grade crossings at Cleveland Street and Commerce Street in Valhalla be closed to safeguard the public from potentially deadly accidents.
The conclusion reached in engineer David Smyth’s Sept. 29 report, unveiled at last Tuesday’s Town Board work session, was in response to an inquiry from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) about the feasibility of closing the Commerce Street grade crossing.
An estimated 1,000 vehicles a day would be rerouted to Lakeview Avenue as a result of a closure of Commerce Street. It would add an additional 1,500 to the trips of about 90 percent of those vehicles.
“The impact of the closing of the Commerce Street grade crossing would be minimal,” the report stated.
Roadway improvements at Cleveland Street would compensate for the closure at that crossing, according to Smyth’s report.
“Investment of a new roadway access and other recommended improvements to offset the impacts of a closure of the Cleveland Street grade crossing would allow this crossing to be eliminated and prevent any potential for the loss of life to those who continually use the crossing, particularly (youngsters) traveling to school or the Little League park,” the report also stated.
Six people died, including five passengers on a northbound Harlem line train, when an SUV was struck at the Commerce Street crossing on Feb. 3, 2015.
The town cannot decide on its own to close the railroad grade crossings, but could make a formal recommendation to the state Department of Transportation (DOT).
Councilman Mark Rubeo said if the town eventually supported closing the two crossings he wanted the DOT to guarantee that the agency would pay for the entire cost of the project.
Smyth told the board that the DOT would pay for the $12 million project for traffic mitigation measures should the Cleveland Street crossing be closed.
He said he understood the concerns of residents who may oppose a closure, but there needs to be assurances that “any crossing you have is safe.”
The Town Board will hold one or two public information sessions on the issue, said Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi. The first, scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. at Town Hall, will allow public comment.
The board would hold a public hearing if it agreed on a specific proposal to close the crossings. However, no decision has been made, Rubeo said.
Representatives from the DOT and the MTA are scheduled to attend the Oct. 24 information session. Smyth said town officials had expected DOT and MTA personnel to attend last week’s work session but they weren’t able to because of a mix up.
Though work sessions are typically sparsely attended, about 25 residents came out for last week’s meeting, which was moved to the Town Hall courtroom from the supervisor’s office.
Once the presentation concluded, two local residents expressed their displeasure. A Legion Drive resident described the presentation as “crap.” If the Cleveland Street crossing is closed “it will take 45 minutes to get out of my driveway” by the additional 1,000 vehicle trips each day, said Alexis, who did not provide her last name.
The town has failed to take into consideration the congestion generated by traffic from Westchester Community College. Children who play on local streets would be in danger because of increased traffic should the crossing be closed.
“You’re going to have cars turning into driveways,” she said. “We can’t get down Legion (now).”
Legion Drive resident Jerry Mackey said “it’s stupid” for the Cleveland Street crossing to be closed.
Despite the concerns, Fulgenzi said the Town Board should consider closing both crossings. He said it would be “irresponsible” to ignore the recommendations.
Although the town has no control over the crossings, it would potentially be liable for millions of dollars there was an accident at one of the crossings, he said. The town is one of multiple defendants in lawsuits brought on behalf of victims of the 2015 accident.
Fulgenzi said the DOT would install a traffic light if the Cleveland Street crossing is closed, which would help alleviate traffic tie-ups.