In a few months, road crews will arrive in the village of Fonda and begin ripping up the northbound pavement where Broadway crests the railroad tracks.
It’s a pretty small job as roadwork goes, but the project will diminish the Broadway rail crossing to a single southbound lane, and rail crossings are a very big deal in Fonda.
“We need that access,” said Village Trustee Walter Boyd.
The partial Broadway crossing closure comes at the end of a yearslong battle between village residents, the state Department of Transportation and the CSX railroad, which owns the track.
In 2011, CSX asked that rail crossings at Center Street and Broadway in the village be closed. It cited safety concerns related to the scores of passenger and freight trains that pass through Fonda on those tracks every day, while villagers argued closing the crossings could strand residents between the tracks and the Mohawk River in flood situations.
There were public hearings and the DOT received more than 100 letters and petitions in favor of keeping the crossings open to traffic. Eventually, the DOT brought in an administrative law judge to make a final ruling.
The judge ordered the Center Street crossing be closed to vehicles but remain open to pedestrians, and the Broadway crossing be narrowed to a single southbound lane.
In August 2013, when the verdict came down, the village was given a six-month window to appeal the decision.
That window is nearly closed now, and Boyd said Monday the village won’t appeal. “We thought about it,” he said, “but we just don’t have the money.”
He said he’s not happy about the situation, but hiring lawyers would be prohibitively expensive.
In the absence of a village appeal, state DOT Regional Rail Coordinator Dave Clements said closure work will begin at the start of the 2014 construction season, probably in April.
“We’re in the process of finalizing the construction plan with the village,” he said.
In the end, he said the Broadway crossing will have the traditional arm and blinking light system to stop southbound cars from rolling out in front of moving trains. Northbound traffic is seen as the main safety concern, as cars tend to queue up at the Route 5 traffic light, stopping on some of the busiest tracks in the state.
Ripping up the northbound pavement, he said, will remove any confusion about new traffic patterns.
The Center Street crossing has been closed since construction started on the new Route 30A bridge over the Mohawk River.
Reopening that crossing to pedestrians will take some effort, Clements said.
“We have to achieve certain grades to meet handicapped access regulations,” he said.
Meanwhile, CSX has filed an appeal over Center Street pedestrian access. CSX officials could not be reached for comment Monday, but Clements laid out the bones of their appeal.
“It’s their opinion that with pedestrian access at the bridge and at Broadway,” he said, “more pedestrian access at Center isn’t worth having another point of possible contact.”
Regardless of the CSX appeal, Clements said work will move forward on Broadway. The project garnered $502,000 in federal funding, which, along with some state funding, should leave the village without a bill.
“We’re addressing their concerns,” he said, “but we are bound by the ruling.”
When construction ends, riverside residents will be able to drive out of their neighborhood only on Route 30A. In an emergency situation, such as the Mohawk River flooding, Clements said the Broadway crossing could be opened by police officers to northbound traffic, or people could walk out on any of three pedestrian crossings.