LOCKPORT – The Town of Lockport is seeking state funding to construct 877 feet of traffic medians in what is now the center turning lane on South Transit Road.
Not everyone is happy about it, judging by a petition against the plan handed in at a Town Board meeting earlier this month.
But town officials plan to go ahead with the proposal if the funding comes in from Albany. An answer is expected some time this fall, according to David R. Kinyon, the town’s economic development director.
“It’s all part of the strategy to enhance the Transit Road corridor,” Kinyon said, “a common design theme that would give Transit Road an identity, rather than just another commercial strip.”
Paul R. Black, who gathered 164 signatures against the project while he was campaigning for a seat on the Town Board, said people he talked to raised numerous objections to the plan.
“The No. 1 reason is snowplowing in winter. That came up again and again and again,” said Black, who was defeated in Tuesday’s Republican primary.
“There was also concern about emergency vehicles. When the accident happens, where would they park?” Black added.
Town Supervisor Marc R. Smith said the traffic lanes and shoulders of the road, which is State Route 78, would remain the same width as now, and only the center of the road would be altered – and not much of that, all things considered.
“There’s only 880 linear feet (of medians) in a mile-and-a-half area,” Smith said. According to Mapquest and Google Maps, the distance between the City of Lockport border and Robinson Road in 1.3 miles. Using that figure, just under 13 percent of the distance would be covered by medians.
Susan Surdej, local spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, said DOT hasn’t given the town’s grant application a detailed review yet, but generally, she said, the department likes “traffic-calming measures” such as medians.
“They narrow the road. They make people drive slower,” Surdej said.
Smith said, “Everything’s been vetted and approved by the DOT, which is one of the promoters of the project.”
The median idea came out of a series of meetings held a few years ago regarding the so-called “Transit North corridor,” an effort spearheaded by Smith to produce a common design theme along Route 78 in southern Niagara County.
Efforts were made to enlist the cooperation of the Town of Pendleton and the City of Lockport, but little that is concrete has come out of the idea until now.
The idea is to plant perennials, shrubs and small trees in the medians, as the City of Lockport has done with its Main Street medians. This would be carried out over a three-year period.
“I am disturbed by the decision to take up gardening in the middle of a high-speed highway,” Black commented at the Sept. 4 board meeting. He added that he was surprised that no one on the Town Board seemed to have opposed the idea.
Black said people who expressed concerns to him said drivers would miss the existing option of veering into the center lane. As the trees grow, his signers told him, the trees themselves might block drivers’ vision, while branches might be struck by passing vehicles, or roots might eventually heave the pavement. Wet or frozen leaves might create a fall driving hazard, too.
Drawings released by Kinyon envision future plantings of trees along the curbs on both sides of the road, in addition to those in the 14-foot-wide medians.
Smith pooh-poohed Black’s concerns. “He’s trying to promote fear and angst among the people,” the supervisor said.
The board’s major concern at past meetings appeared to be the fact that the DOT’s grant, if it is received, would require the town to pony up 20 percent of the cost of the project.
Kinyon said the cost of installing the planned five segments of median is $480,000, making the town’s share $96,000. The grant application seeks $384,000.
According to the drawings, the longest of the five medians would cover a 417-foot stretch of South Transit that would begin 286 feet north of the intersection with Robinson Road. It would end just south of the parking lots for Faery’s Plant Market and the Lockport Outdoor Store.
There would be a 100-foot median near Applebee’s, an 80-foot segment in front of the current Walmart, a 120-foot median near Heinrich Chevrolet and 160 feet of median in the vicinity of Wendy’s Restaurant.
Each of the medians would be tapered to allow a left-turn lane at one end. Several businesses with locations on or near the affected area have sent letters to the DOT supporting the town’s grant request.
They include the Bower Insurance Agency, First Niagara Bank, the Julie Coy-State Farm Insurance Agency, Tops Market, Pep Boys,M&T Bank, Carpet Collection and the landlords of two plazas.
Also, the DOT received letters supporting the median project from Sen. Charles E. Schumer, Rep. Chris Collins, State Sen. George D. Maziarz and Assemblywoman Jane Corwin.
By making the Transit strip more aesthetically attractive, Kinyon said, the town may be able to lure more retailers and other businesses.
“The whole objective is not only to stimulate business investment and job creation, but to stimulate more sales tax revenue for the county and the towns,” Kinyon said.
Black said that residents told him that no one knows what the cost of maintenance and repairs to the medians may be, not to mention the cost of possible construction overruns.
And, he said, there is a possibility that some future town administration may change its mind about the medians and seek their removal, adding more expense for the taxpayers.