For the first time since it opened in 1962, Interstate 890 in downtown Schenectady will have a new look.
The 9.5-mile expressway, which runs through much of Schenectady County, has been classified by the state Department of Transportation as a high-accident location over the past several years.
Steve Allocco, the assistant to the regional director at DOT, said the problem is being addressed with a redesign, which the department hopes will be a solution to the problem.
In spring 2016, Allocco said the maze of loops and pathways motorists traverse daily, often referred to as the “Circle of Death,” will be reconstructed to be simpler and safer.
The design has been in the works for about two years by the DOT’s design group, Allocco said, with the plan to remove the small loop that runs under the interstate and replace it with two new ramps — one heading east and the other west.
“Right now, you’ve got that small loop where you have to make that big cut over a few lanes when you’re trying to get onto 890 East,” Allocco said. “We’re taking that out so people will swing around by the GE side of the circle where the new ramp will tie in and bring them up to 890 eastbound.
“The important thing to note is, ramps aren’t just being removed here,” he added. “Two new ramps will be installed to replace them so the traffic flow is accommodated.”
Eric Stigberg, the managing director of public affairs at AAA Northway, said the construction on 890 is definitely overdue.
“Interstate 890 is an outdated design that clearly isn’t keeping up with the demand for the amount of cars on the road today,” Stigberg said. “When it was built decades ago, it seemed like a decent fix, but that’s not the case anymore.”
Stigberg said he drives 890 as part of his daily commute, and often sees an accident there.
There were 24 accidents on the local interstate from Jan. 1, 2012 through April 30 of this year, with one injury, 13 with property damage only and 10 non-reportable, or damage under $1,500.
“Getting through there every day is a daunting task,” Stigberg said of his 890 commute.
It’s difficult for people who drive it everyday, but is especially a concern for those who have never been on that road before, he said. “It’s a tremendous challenge.”
Allocco said the road was defined to have 2.92 accidents per million vehicle miles, while the accepted rate for a comparable full-access urban divided highway is 1.08 accidents per million vehicle miles.
“By and large, the accidents that happened were minor,” Allocco said. “Even so, it’s over two times the number of accidents that area should be seeing, which made us realize something needed to be done for traffic and public safety.”
Bids by contractors will be opened Dec. 17, Allocco said. An estimated cost for the project will not be released until then.
“The funds for this major project will be a mix of federal funding and taxpayer money,” Allocco explained Monday. “We believe there will be federal participation in this.”
Allocco said construction is expected to begin and end during the 2016 season.
“When the time comes, there will be some detours, but nothing that will really disrupt traffic or delay a commute,” Allocco said. “You have to break eggs to make the omelette, but we’ll make sure folks can go about their business in the meantime.”
Stigberg said he’s looking forward to the interstate’s new design.
“This project is definitely one that needs to happen,” he said. “It will be for the best and, in the long run, will keep people safer than before.”