Travel times through the Rexford Bridge corridor will be reduced significantly with a proposed new bridge and intersection project, a state DOT official told area residents Thursday night.
An estimated 150 people turned out at the Rexford Fire Station to hear about the proposal and ask questions. Many appeared skeptical that the project as proposed could do what Department of Transportation project manager Richard Filkins said it would.
The project calls for a new, wider bridge as well as a roundabout at Aqueduct Road in Niskayuna and added lanes at Riverview Road in Clifton Park.
Traffic projections, Filkins said, indicate that the improvements could cut travel times to a third of what they would be in a few years, when even higher traffic volume is expected.
“It’s not going to be perfect free-flow,” he said, “but it’s going to be much better than it is, based on our projections.”
The new bridge would have three travel lanes, with one in each direction and an auxiliary lane in the middle that would generally be southbound, Filkins said. There would also be a protected lane for walkers and bicyclists to connect bike and hike trails on each side of the river.
The bridge would be built just to the west of the current bridge, leaving the current bridge open during construction.
The entire project is estimated to cost $25 million. Construction dates are yet to be set and funding yet to be secured, but Filkins said he was “fairly positive” that funding would materialize.
The plan is to go for design approval this March. With that, the plans would be ready when money becomes available. The state of the current bridge will also be a driving factor because it is nearing its designed 50-year lifespan and maintenance costs are only going to go up.
Filkins spent much of the evening on a presentation about the various aspects of the project, taking questions from skeptical residents as he went.
One woman asked why he thought funding for this proposal would come through when a 1998 proposal never got off the ground.
“Because it’s less expensive,” he answered. The previous proposal covered a larger area and would cost almost twice as much in today’s dollars, he said.
Bob Cassella of Niskayuna questioned how the proposed changes would improve the situation if certain sections of the road, including the bridge itself, weren’t widened further. He suggested it wouldn’t improve.
Filkins said he respectively disagreed, and Cassella responded in kind.
Filkins, though, explained that the bridge itself is not the actual problem.
“Our analysis shows that the bottleneck is not the bridge: the bottleneck is the two intersections,” he said, “and we’re doing improvements at both intersections, which is going to allow for additional flow-through.”
Filkins also said engineers looked into putting a roundabout at Riverview Road, but there wasn’t enough space there. Instead, they added lanes.
Other questions centered on Main Street, near the bridge. A Rexford fire official objected to a proposal to close one of the two access points on safety grounds.
Another resident at the meeting questioned how traffic would turn left from Main Street.
Filkins said Main Street traffic would have a center lane to turn left or could turn right, cross the bridge, come around the roundabout and come back up the hill.
Those attending the meeting were encouraged to fill out comment forms with their concerns.
Ted Bochenek questioned why the state didn’t just build a new bridge downriver, making an extra way to cross the river. Bochenek is vice commodore of the Schenectady Yacht Club, which is in the corridor.
“You can fiddle with this road all you want, and in 10 years you’ll have the same problem,” he said. “Put another bridge across the river and you’ll solve your problem.”
Filkins responded that an additional bridge was cost-prohibitive and disagreed with Bochenek’s assertion.
“I think our problems are going to largely be solved with the plan we have,” Filkins said.
A second meeting is scheduled for Jan. 30 at Niskayuna Town Hall and will include a formal public hearing on the project.