By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — After being regarded as a treacherous spot for decades, a busy intersection in town is on its way to getting some much-needed improvements.
The intersection at routes 146 and 146A and Vischer Ferry Road will be the subject of a state Department of Transportation traffic study and improvement project. Designated as a “high accident” location by the DOT since 1997, drivers may see the intersection restructured in ways meant to slow traffic, prevent rear-end accidents and decrease driving delays over the next two years in different ways, including the possible construction of a two-lane roundabout.
The DOT opted to conduct a traffic study on the corridor after soliciting safety-improvement projects that could utilize federal Highway Safety Improvement Program funds.
Over a three-and-a-half year period from January 2013 to June 2016, DOT studied the Route 146 site and found 103 accidents at the intersection, 20 resulting in injuries. The rate of crashes per million vehicle miles at the intersection is about seven crashes per million vehicle miles, which is above the statewide average of around four crashes per million miles, according to DOT data.
While the department is still analyzing traffic data to gauge how to best improve the intersection, the front-runner is the construction of an ADA compliant two-lane roundabout with new continuous sidewalks and high-visibility crosswalks. The cost would be $3.83 million.
“We collected traffic data in early June while school was still in session. We plan to scope the project – and possible viable intersection options – this summer,” DOT spokesman Bryan Viggiani said. “We’re aiming to start and end construction all in 2019, barring any unforeseen issues.”
Heavy commuter traffic throughout the intersection is one factor that makes the road difficult to navigate, but a large amount of commercial buildings, including a brand-new Market 32, contribute to the increase in traffic. But Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett said that while the new store, which was previously a Price Chopper, may cause an initial increase in traffic, the stores in the shopping plaza had already been there for years prior to redevelopment, so the long-term traffic increase would probably not be much.
Planning Director John Scavo echoed the sentiment that despite all the stores in the plaza being moved around and redesigned, including a Rite-Aid store, the square-footage of the plaza has remained the same, so traffic coming in and out of the shopping center won’t change much in the long run.
But Scavo added that any DOT work on the area will probably improve intersection traffic not just for civilian drivers, but also for emergency vehicles, which often can’t move through the road in a timely manner due to significant traffic back-ups.
“If there’s an opportunity to improve safety, it could even assist emergency services,” Scavo said.
In fact, Scavo said, the newly designed plaza itself might serve to mitigate traffic and reckless driving in the area. When traffic was backed up at the intersection, Scavo said, drivers would often cut through the plaza to skip the lights. But, he said, with the addition of stop signs and turning lanes in the plaza, people will probably be less likely to cut through it.
Barrett said that traffic issues at the intersection is a topic that town officials, residents and incoming developers have been discussing for years, and that upgrades to the area are necessary to improve driving safety. He added that he would like to have public conversations about the project plans, possibly in the upcoming fall or winter, after DOT completes its analysis of the area.
“The need for improvements around the intersection has been a regular topic of conversation,” Barrett said. “I have confidence in the DOT that they will do their homework, have a viable plan to present to the residents of Clifton Park, and also hold a public information meeting jointly with the town to talk about the plan itself, but also to receive important insight.”
The town will allocate $73,500 to go toward the project as well.