Area residents packed a meeting Thursday night in Niskayuna, voicing their concerns on the proposed new Rexford Bridge and questioning the project manager on the flow of traffic.
Questions included whether the bridge as proposed — one northbound lane and two southbound — would really ease congestion in the afternoon, when a large number of commuters drive north on Route 146.
There were also questions about access from Williams Street, which leads to a few dozen houses east of the bridge on the Niskayuna side of the Mohawk River. Would a proposed roundabout hinder the flow of traffic out of Williams Street?
State Department of Transportation project manager Richard Filkins tried to allay residents’ fears. Studies and projections have traffic moving smoothly with the proposed improvements, both along Route 146 and from Williams Street.
“There are things that we can do if it turns out that it doesn’t work out well,” he responded, noting that the proposal leaves room for expansion. “But we’re also fairly confident that what we are going to do is going to make things better for a long time.”
The DOT is proposing a new bridge to take Route 146 over the Mohawk River.
The current bridge is nearing the end of its anticipated 50-year lifespan. The bridge and the configuration of intersections to the north and south also cause regular headaches for commuters trying to get to and from work.
The new bridge would have three travel lanes, two southbound and one northbound, Filkins said. The center lane won’t be reversible. There would also be a protected lane for pedestrians and bicyclists to connect to bike/hike trails on each side of the river. A concrete barrier would separate the bike lane from the driving lanes, but the bridge rails themselves would allow views of the river.
Filkins has said the proposed project is expected to cut travel times through the area to a third of what they are now.
The entire project is estimated to cost $25 million. Construction dates are yet to be set and funding is yet to be secured, but officials are optimistic that the money will materialize.
Thursday night’s session at Niskayuna Town Hall was officially scheduled as a public hearing but ended up being largely a question-and-answer session between the public and project officials.
Amy Prorok, of Clifton Park, questioned how the single northbound lane would help traffic heading north in the afternoon. “What is going to be done to help ease that over the bridge?” she asked.
Filkins responded by pointing to the Riverview Road intersection north of the bridge in Clifton Park. The project would add lanes there, allowing traffic to get through that traffic light more quickly.
“What we found is that the cause of the congestion in the afternoon is not that there’s only one lane on the bridge,” he said, “it’s the Riverview Road intersection.”
The Aqueduct Road roundabout would provide the same service for southbound traffic in the morning, Filkins said.
Williams Street resident Richard Flanders questioned how that roundabout would impact residents in his neighborhood. Other neighborhood residents who attended voiced doubts that they could get into the roundabout when traffic was heavy.
“So we get the negative effect of a roundabout only because of southbound traffic?” Flanders asked.
Filkins disagreed with Flanders’ assumption about any negative effect of the roundabout: “I think that your access is going to be better.”
But the Williams Street residents’ concerns only grew when they viewed a computer-generated animated simulation that didn’t show cars entering from Williams Street. Officials explained that the simulation was running at three times normal speed. Also, natural gaps in roundabout traffic would allow access.
The bridge would be built just to the west of the current bridge. The current bridge would remain open during construction and be demolished afterward.
The plan is to go for design approval this March. With that, the plans would be ready when money becomes available.