Sometimes, a stretch of road can act as much like a wall as if it was standing on its edge.
That’s the case with Washington Avenue in Schenectady as Route 1-890 empties onto it from Exit 4C. The exit is one of only two exits for traffic coming into the city from the south, especially those coming to the city via the Thruway.
As more motorists use the exit ramp to get onto Washington Avenue and into the city, that small stretch of road in front of SUNY Schenectady has become a physical and metaphoric wall.
It’s become a physical wall because it prevents the college from expanding eastward toward the heart of the city.
The heavy traffic flowing off I-890 makes it difficult for people to easily cross the busy highway between the campus and points east, serving as an obstacle for students, visitors, faculty and others to easily walk between the main campus and places downtown, including an ever-expanding list of college satellite locations.
The Exit 4C ramp/Washington Avenue configuration also represents a metaphorical wall, in that it serves to isolate the main community college campus from the rest of the city and impedes it from playing a bigger role in the vibrancy and economy of the city.
In many cities where college campuses are incorporated into the downtown structure, colleges spur the local economy, encourage construction to support the college and its students’ interests, and often lead to cities becoming more pedestrian friendly.
So it’s with anticipation and optimism that the Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) goes forward with a federally funded $400,000 study that would help reduce traffic on Washington Avenue in front of the college.
The initial plan involves rerouting traffic between the interstate and State Street closer to the Mohawk River, behind the college instead of in front of it. This should alleviate a lot of traffic on Washington Avenue, effectively lowering the wall between the main campus and the rest of the city
While $400,000 seems like a lot of money to study reconfiguring an exit ramp, there’s no doubt that the improvements will justify the expense. That’s especially true if the plan does double duty to address some of the annual flooding that takes place in the area of the college, particularly in the winter when ice dams force the Mohawk River to back up.
Those designing the traffic flow changes should look into the feasibility of incorporating physical barriers to block or divert the flood waters away from the college.
It’s not often that a highway construction project can have such potential to significantly change not only the area directly around it, but the entire educational, cultural and economic direction of a city.
This one could have that effect.
Mr. CDTC, tear down this wall.