New Exit 6 interchange opens to positive reviews (with video)

Miranda Knoll usually had a good reason for being a couple minutes late for work at Mayfair Jewelers

Miranda Knoll usually had a good reason for being a couple minutes late for work at Mayfair Jewelers.

Driving east from her home in Rotterdam, the sales associate would routinely get caught in the traffic snarls on Troy-Schenectady Road at the Interstate 87 overpass. With two traffic lights and an average of 45,000 cars passing over the bridge each day, getting stuck on or before it was almost inevitable during her commute to the shop, just east of the Northway.

The traffic jams went from bad to worse when the state Department of Transportation started a $41.9 million bridge replacement project in March. Knoll and her co-workers would frequently watch traffic back up all the way to their store, about a quarter mile from the overpass.

“We’d see it all the way down the road,” she recalled.

But those snarls seemed to vanish as the Capital Region’s first single-point urban interchange opened Monday — roughly a month ahead of schedule. The project created a unique spider-shaped traffic pattern by realigning all of the approach lanes to the bridge, removing one traffic signal and moving the other to the center of the overpass.

So far, motorists are finding that the new configuration is working. Many are saying the new interchange, while slightly confusing at first, is allowing traffic to travel across the bridge much more quickly than the former diamond pattern there.

“It’s very easy to get through there now,” said Kevin Gadreault, the general manager at Dakota Restaurant off Troy-Schenectady Road. “Everyone that is coming through it is saying they love it.”

Transportation officials are hoping others share this sentiment. Prior to the changes, the traffic flow through the Exit 6 corridor routinely received the lowest grades designated by DOT.

Space saver

Project manager Dan Moore said the agency made improving traffic flow a priority when it came time to replace the 1950s-era bridge. But the area surrounding the bridge proved to be too densely populated with residential and commercial properties to build many of the configurations originally considered.

“We have a very urbanized area there,” he said. “All four quadrants are filled with either houses, businesses or wetlands.”

The urban interchange configuration — commonly referred to by its acronym, SPUI — condenses the traditional diamond pattern and reduces the number of signals. As a result, large volumes of traffic can move more fluidly in an area where there is hardly any space to build larger patterns, such as the traditional cloverleaf designs existing at the Northway’s Exit 2 in Colonie and Exit 13 in Malta.

The new pattern at Exit 6 uses only one light for vehicles going east and west on Troy-Schenectady Road — Route 7 — and for motorists exiting or entering the Northway at Exit 6. The bizarre element of the single-point intersection is that it allows left-hand turns to be made simultaneously from both the east and west approaches.

“It’s an excellent design because it consolidates two intersections of a diamond interchange into one,” said Christopher O’Neill, a senior traffic planner for the Capital District Transportation Committee. “You get rid of the backup that occurred on the bridge between the two lights.”

The first single-point urban interchange was constructed on state Route 60 in Clearwater, Fla., and opened in 1974. Since that time, roughly 60 have been constructed across the United States.

In New York, this traffic pattern exists on Long Island and in Utica, but in both cases the highway portion travels over the top of the intersection. Moore said the one recently opened in Colonie is unique in that the Northway travels underneath the intersection.

“It’s the first and only one like it in New York,” he said.

Quick learners

Of course, state and local officials are expecting motorists to experience a learning curve, given the uniqueness of the design. DOT launched the website,, in the hope of educating motorists.

But in its first week, traffic has been passing through the intersection with few problems. Colonie Police Lt. Robert Winn said officers haven’t seen any issues with the intersection since it opened.

“We’ve had no incidents, no accidents and traffic is moving very well in that area,” he said.

Motorists didn’t have many complaints either. Colonie resident Desiree Ferguson said she passes through the intersection with ease now, when before there were frequent delays.

“It does reduce backups,” she said Friday.

Barbara Madden of Clifton Park shared this sentiment, even though she could see where the new exit ramps from the Northway — with two left turn lanes — could cause fender-benders. She said some motorists unfamiliar with the new pattern and not attentive to the road markings sometimes realize they’re in the wrong turn lane and try to swerve over at the last minute.

“Someone almost hit me yesterday,” she said, while fueling up her vehicle at the Mobil station off Exit 6.

Melissa Lessener of Latham drove through a little slower than normal the first time she traveled across the bridge. She said the unfamiliar traffic pattern can appear daunting at first. But, “I like it,” she said. “It seems to run much smoother.”

At least much smother than the traffic did when DOT first started the bridge replacement. Brad Desai of Quality Inn and Suites said the combination of traffic backups and the sound of construction virtually ruined his business over the past six months.

Now, he’s hoping the restored and improved traffic flow will convince some of his former customers to return.

“I strongly feel it makes the traffic flow through much better than before,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

Leave a Reply