Risky intersection may get traffic circle

·3 min read

Jun. 11—A traffic circle may be in the works for one of Otsego County's busiest intersections.

The intersection of Main Street, James F. Lettis Highway and Maple Street, long the subject of safety concerns from state and local officials, could be the site of the new roundabout.

"That area was found to be dangerous for both pedestrians and motorists," Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig said. "Given the safety issues, the state Department of Transportation deemed it a priority project."

The four lanes of Lettis Highway split off into two in every direction: both east and west on Main Street and north onto Maple Street.

The highway's on- and off-ramps each have their own crosswalk segment, spanning more than 60 feet from the east side of the street to the west. To cross Main Street from either side is at least another 30 feet.

"Because of the complexity, the size and distance to be traveled, a roundabout was the only proposed solution for the intersection," Herzig said. "It will take some acclimation, but roundabouts have been shown to be the safest solution at a dangerous intersection."

Roundabouts, by design, minimize the distance for pedestrians to cross and often require cars to slow down, Herzig said. "If an accident was to occur, with the cars all going the same direction, it would more likely be a low-speed side scrape, rather than a T-bone or head-on collision."

The area is popular among pedestrians crossing Lettis Highway to access Oneonta's Southside, as well as those headed to and from the post office on the corner of Lettis Highway and Main Street, Herzig said.

Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, announced the award of $3.2 million to the project Thursday, June 10, through the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act, which also allocated funds to four other transportation projects throughout New York's 19th Congressional District.

"We are very grateful to Congressman Delgado for going to bat for us and looking out for the safety of the people of Oneonta," Herzig said.

"I think it's great," said South New Berlin resident Diana *Banta, whose daughter, April Johnson, was killed last year after she was struck by a motorist while crossing Lettis Highway on foot.

The project would also benefit from better lighting and additional sidewalks, *Banta said. "It's way too dangerous."

A preliminary investigation of the accident that caused Johnson's death indicated she was crossing the highway in a dimly lit area that is not a marked pedestrian crosswalk.

Herzig said the city was denied state funding to improve the overall safety of the intersection shortly before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is my hope that the intersection rebuild becomes the first step which triggers a complete much-needed redesign of the full length of Lettis Highway," Herzig said. "That is an important need. It remains a high priority."

If approved, the estimated yearlong project would tentatively break ground in summer 2024, with bids solicited as early as spring 2024.

Delgado also secured $6,254,400 for the replacement of a bridge nearly a century old over Schoharie Creek in the village of Schoharie.

The state DOT found the bridge to be "structurally and functionally obsolete," according to Schoharie County Public Works Commissioner Daniel R. Crandell. Had the issues gone unaddressed, the Bridge Street closure would have resulted in a 14-mile round-trip detour.

"This is a critical bridge for emergency services, school bus routes, postal service, daily commuter traffic, farm traffic and local commerce," Crandell said.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

*Edited at 10:02 a.m. on June 11, 2021 to correct name.