Kevin Eitzmann grew up in Malta, and when spring rolled around, he remembers all the neighborhood kids would ride their bikes over to Chango Elementary School each day. The short journey, which required crossing several intersections along Round Lake Road, was a fond childhood memory he hoped his own kids would experience one day.
“That was during rush-hour traffic and it was never a problem growing up because you’d wait for the stop light and you’d cross over and that was that,” he said.
If the town has its way and moves forward with installing two new roundabouts just west of Northway Exit 11, Eitzmann believes his kids won’t just miss out on spring bike rides to school, but they’ll be members of a neighborhood newly divided.
“I want them to be able to experience some of the same stuff we got to as kids, where we lived on one side of Round Lake Road and were friends with the kids on the other side and we all went to Chango,” he said Saturday from the sidewalk in front of Hannaford Plaza. “But when you’re putting a traffic hazard in the way, parents aren’t going to be as comfortable letting their kids cross over a main road like that anymore, so they’re not going to be able to experience the same community that we got to experience as kids, and I think that’s wrong.”
More than a year after roundabouts were proposed for Round Lake Road at Chango Drive and Raylinsky-Ruhle roads in Malta, residents are still opposed to the plan that state and local officials say will ease traffic and increase the capacity of the growing traffic corridor. With the Town Board scheduled to hold a public hearing Monday night at Town Hall on taking land for the roundabouts, several dozen residents stood outside Hannaford Plaza with signs on Saturday to publicly oppose the plan.
They’re not unaware of the growing traffic issues along Round Lake Road and they don’t dispute estimates that show traffic will increase 30 percent along the corridor in the next decade. But they don’t believe that the two roundabouts will fix these problems, and they don’t believe the engineering firms and state Department of Transportation when they say roundabouts are the safest option for pedestrians. Their preference is for the construction of traffic light-controlled intersections with new turn lanes and signalized pedestrian crossings.
Malta is already home to more than a dozen roundabouts. There are seven, one after another, along one particular stretch of Route 67 that turns into Dunning Street.
“This is a residential area,” said Valerie Manley, who lives on Lucille Lane and owns a salon at the Hannaford Plaza. “Our other roundabouts are in commercial areas. You don’t typically see them in residential areas for a reason.”
The Town Board asked Creighton Manning Engineering last year to identify safety and transportation improvements for Round Lake Road. In November, the firm submitted recommendations to the board that called for the installation of single-lane roundabouts at Chango Drive and at Ruhle and Raylinsky roads, segmented landscaped medians, pedestrian paths to Carlyle Court and the Round Lake Bypass, and pedestrian crossing warning beacons.
Don Adams, the firm’s senior design engineer, said the firm looked at both roundabouts and signalized intersections with turn lanes when considering how to ease traffic congestion.
“Roundabouts are without doubt the safest alternative for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists,” he said in a news release issued Friday. “This is not only our finding, but the finding of The Chazen Companies who conducted preliminary studies in 2012 and of the New York state Department of Transportation.”
On Dec. 30, the Town Board approved Creighton’s recommendations and authorized them to prepare construction plans, identify right-of-way needs and develop bid specifications for the proposed improvements.
If the town moves forward with the roundabout plan, it would need to take strips of land from seven properties — one of them residential. This could require eminent domain proceedings if the landowners don’t reach a voluntary agreement with the town, and several temporary easements for grading and rebuilding driveways.
The public hearing, scheduled for 6:55 p.m. Monday at Town Hall, will be to meet the requirements of Eminent Domain Procedure Law. Opponents of the plan say they will show up, but are encouraging other members of the public to be there and voice their concerns, as well. Creighton Manning representatives will be at the hearing to present information. Those unable to make the hearing can still submit written statements to the town until March 13.
At Saturday’s protest, former Ballston Town Supervisor Patti Southworth said she’s concerned that a $250,000 federal grant from the National Center for Safe Routes to School is being used to fund part of the $6 million project. The grant will pay for sidewalks, crosswalks and school-zone signs near the Chango Elementary School.
“That money is supposed to be used to encourage kids to get off the bus and walk to school or bike to school and the roundabouts will really make that impractical,” she said. “They’re actually causing more of a hazard.”
Southworth, who recently announced she’s running for Republican Hugh Farley’s seat in the state Senate, recently tried to walk from the Malta Commons Business Park to the new Malta Med Emergent Care facility. For anyone counting, that’s four roundabouts to traverse in just half a mile.
“I wanted to see for myself how safe it is,” she said. “They’re telling me it’s safe, it’s easy to do. I tried to walk it. It is not easy and it is not safe. The issue is safety and getting people able to walk and to utilize their community. It’s not about how fast can we get through this intersection to get to work. These are the people who are going to have to live with these improvements day in and day out, not just on their way to work and not just on their way home.”