Traffic volume on the rise following Pandemic-induced drop last spring, Rekindling concerns about safety issues on narrow former parkway
A year ago this week, Briarcliff Manor and Ossining officials joined by police, fire and emergency services personnel gathered on the edge of the heavily travelled Route 9A for a news conference. They emphatically called on the State Department of Transportation (DOT) to undertake a full-scale study of how the highly dangerous, outmoded highway could be re-designed to meet modern safety standards. A year later, they are still waiting.
Briarcliff Mayor Steve Vescio, a lifelong village resident and volunteer fireman who has seen the 9A carnage from the front lines, has led the charge to get the state to focus on the winding 89-year-old highway. Built as a parkway it now handles a full array of large-scale truck and commercial traffic. The most dangerous sections of the overtaxed road are in the two communities.
He said that while the commitment to a comprehensive study has not been made, there has been some small movement in the right direction. “A year ago, we got the effort off to a good start,” he said. “State Sen. David Carlucci attended the news conference and followed up by introducing a bill in the Senate calling for the DOT to conduct the study. That bill is now being handled by Sen. Peter Harckham. Unfortunately, companion legislation has not been introduced in the State Assembly, and that’s something we need to push for.”
He added that while the DOT has acknowledged that a study is called for, it maintains that it lacks the necessary funding and has not made the 9A study a priority. He noted that since the 9A issue was raised, DOT crews have accelerated routine maintenance, notably quicker replacement of damaged guardrails and median barriers which pose a threat to motorists, which addresses a chronic safety problem. However, the big picture problems remain.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on traffic volumes,” the Mayor said, “with volume off by 90 percent in March and April. This has led to fewer accidents. However, the volume has been steadily increasing since then and this fall has started growing significantly. And with that, we are seeing an uptick in accidents and near accidents. We also should not ignore factors such as the Amazon regional warehouse that will open near Elmsford and other new commercial businesses that will add to the truck traffic, and the expected surge in new housing construction across the lower and mid-Hudson Valley region that will further add to the traffic load. Route 9A is a vital transportation link for a very large area and that isn’t going to change.”
Key Facts – NYS Briarcliff-Peekskill Parkway(Route 9A)
- 2 Miles through the Village of Briarcliff Manor
- 120 Accidents per year. Many serious. Strain on limited local resources – PD/Fire/EMS
- 2 intersections with traffic lights, 3 uncontrolled intersections, 2 ramp intersections
- 40,000+ passenger and commercial vehicles per day
- 4 Bridges (Built 1911, 1928, 1932 & 1967), 2 culverts(Built 1928)
- Built as the Briarcliff-Peekskill parkway by NYS on Westchester County Parkland.
- Opened in 1933. Commercial traffic allowed at some point thereafter
- Guardrail added in 1974 after many deaths and protests by Briarcliff Manor residents
- Design deficiencies such as insufficient clearance for trucks, narrow lanes, dangerous intersections and on ramp designs result in a public safety hazard
- Number of vehicles including heavy trucks continues to grow due to development
- Past time for a major upgrade. Process must start with a study & design
At the heart of the Route 9A safety issue is that it was designed as the Briarcliff-Peekskill Parkway in the late 1920s. The four traffic lanes for cars are very narrow, and the overpasses are so low that even modest-sized trucks are forced to dangerously shift to the passing lane in order to clear the low heights. The 1928 Pleasantville Road bridge over 9A, for example, has a right lane clearance of just 10 feet – 10 inches, is situated on a curve and has rock outcroppings just inches from the edge of the pavement.
Vescio remembers only too well when a fuel tanker truck hit the bridge and burst into massive flames. The fire damaged the overpass, severing the only roadway linking the east and west sides of the village. Fire and ambulance corps from neighboring Pleasantville had to assume responsibility for the eastern portion of the village because Briarcliff’s emergency services are based west of the bridge.
“That was an unforgettable disaster that easily could have resulted in a far worse outcome than it did,” he said. “And since that time there have been other horrific accidents in that same area. Unless and until the road is redesigned, the dangers of today remain. Regrettably, another accident is just waiting to happen.”
Looking at the coming months and year, the mayor said he fully recognizes that the uncertainties and financial impacts resulting from the pandemic pose challenges to all levels of government. “At the same time, the cost of a study is small in terms of overall budgets. This is when to develop a comprehensive plan so that as the as the economy recovers, we will literally have a roadmap for how to proceed with improving the safety of this vital highway, preventing injuries and saving lives. I am committed to working to get this done.”