Bill Peeler, mayor of Fonda and a lifelong resident of the village, used to love sitting on his porch in the cool of a summer evening to enjoy a glass of sweet tea.
Peeler said he doesn’t go outside most days now because of the tractor-trailer traffic that passes through the village going to and from the state Thruway. That traffic is expected to get heavier in coming years as local officials work to expand and develop industrial parks in the area.
To deal with this expected growth, officials want to build a connector road from Exit 28 on the Thruway to somewhere along Route 30A, which would divert heavy truck traffic away from the villages of Fonda and Fultonville. A $400,000 grant Fulton and Montgomery counties received from the federal Transportation, Community and System Preservation Program will be used to study the cost and feasibility of building the road. The transportation grant was one of three made to municipalities in New York this year.
Peeler said the heavy truck traffic is a safety risk to residents, degrades the quality of life in the village and strains the village’s finances. “I can tell you we have repaired over 20 water leaks since I became mayor in April,” he said.
The trucks spew diesel fumes and create brake dust that coat village homes and businesses with a dark soot. They also damage village streets and underlying infrastructure and create noise as they grind their gears going up and down hills along Route 30A, which runs north of the village and bears the brunt of the traffic, Peeler said.
A recent study by the state Department of Transportation counted 10,925 vehicles passing through Fonda on a given day. Of this number, 1,700 were heavy trucks. “I don’t know of any other area with this traffic based on our population and size,” Peeler said.
James Mraz, director of the Fulton County Planning Department, said he wrote the federal grant application specifically to address concerns coming from the villages of Fonda and Fultonville about the heavy truck traffic passing through their boundaries daily.
For the most part, the trucks pass through on runs between Exit 28 and the industrial park in Fulton County. The park contains a Walmart distribution center and Fage USA Dairy Industry’s only Greek yogurt manufacturing plant in the country, among other businesses.
Trucks are also starting to use Exit 28 to avoid congestion on the Northway for runs into Saratoga County, Peeler said.
Officials are trying to create a second industrial park in the area, which would encompasses land in the town of Mohawk and outside the city of Johnstown. Heavy trucks are the primary method of moving products from businesses in the area, as there is no rail connection there.
Mraz said another reason for the study is to find a quicker, more efficient route for trucks running between the Thruway and parts north.
While the distance from the exit to the park is about five miles, trucks have to spend time negotiating village streets and maintaining the village speed limit.
“A more direct route would make the parks more accessible,” he said.
Further, the “development of new roads anywhere ends up being a driver of potential development,” Mraz said. This development could take the form of residential, commercial or both.
Peeler said he supports the feasibility study but also wants to be sure that any proposed development does not hurt the village’s existing retail base, which generates sales tax revenue. “I am a firm believer we should look at this. The current traffic patterns are detrimental for the village of Fonda,” he said. “A connector would help heavy traffic bypass the village, but anything that is planned has to be done accordingly.”
Peeler said village officials do not want to lose sales tax revenue from establishments in the village currently used by truckers. He said the ideal situation is to limit commercial development along a proposed bypass.
Mraz said he agrees with Peeler’s point of view. “You do not want to disturb what is currently there and not disrupt existing conditions. We would look at targeted development,” he said.
In the end, Mraz said, a “bypass would help improve the quality of life along Main Street in the village of Fonda. It would make downtown Fonda a place that would be more attractive to residents and would attract business development in the village. “Hopefully, it would spur development along the connector and make properties in Fulton County more attractive to development because of quicker access to the state Thruway,” he said.
He said construction of a bypass road is years away and that the area would need sewer and water for development to occur.
Fulton and Montgomery counties have been asked to contribute a match of $50,000 each for the feasibility study.
The Fulton County Board of Supervisors has already placed $50,000 in its budget for next year. A Montgomery County Board of Supervisors’ committee will vote on the allocation this week, said board Chairman Shayne Walters. He said he does not expect approval, citing the county’s tight finances.
This does not mean the study is dead, however. Mike Gendron, chairman of the Fulton County board, said his board could consider providing the full funding match once Montgomery County has voted definitively on the issue.