Route 11 concerns persist in Canton as state lawmakers consider speed reduction

·5 min read

May 16—CANTON — Road safety concerns along the Route 11 corridor between Canton and Potsdam aren't new. But with recent collisions and pending state legislation that could lead to a speed reduction, Canton officials are again hoping for a safer village gateway.

During a joint municipal meeting last month, Mayor Michael E. Dalton led discussion of the Route 11 stretch of concern, which begins directly across from the Save A Lot plaza where a sign reads "END 40 MPH LIMIT." It alerts drivers to the 55-mph limit in place for roughly 11 miles northeast to Potsdam.

Southwest of the plaza at the other end of the village, and through the downtown retail strip, the speed limit is posted at 30 mph and maintained along the highway — called East Main Street east of the village center — until it transitions for eastbound drivers to 40 mph near Romoda Drive and the entrance to St. Lawrence University.

Where the brief, 40-mph run transitions again, the road is still within the village limits, and drivers passing through the east side's commercial districts have suffered, according to municipal officials. The most apparent problem area along the mile between the 55-mph starting point and the village-town line is the entrance to the St. Lawrence Health System Medical Campus, 6119 Route 11.

The $23 million Medical Campus officially opened in March 2017, further developing the village's outskirts. But the facility's entrance is not always easy — or safe — to navigate.

The southbound lane heading toward Canton has a wide shoulder drivers sometimes use to turn, technically unlawfully, into the long driveway. Without using the shoulder, and without a turning lane, drivers alternatively slow from speeds of 55 mph or more to make the right-hand turn. Continuing toward Canton just past the driveway, the road slopes down and sweeps a tight corner under the railroad bridge near Route 11 Truck and Equipment Sales. Guard rails line some of the grassy embankments in the area.

Driving toward Potsdam, the shoulder is narrower off the northbound lane and is bounded by a guard rail. With no turning lane, those needing to turn left into the Medical Campus are most often forced to stop and wait for oncoming traffic to clear, or attempt to pass on the outside.

A March 26 multi-vehicle collision at the entrance to the Medical Campus sent three people to the hospital.

St. Lawrence County sheriff's deputies responded to Route 11 at about 12:30 p.m. and determined a 2010 Freightliner tractor with an enclosed trailer had rear-ended a 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The tractor-trailer, operated by Randy C. Rickson, 56, of Plattsburgh, was reportedly traveling north on Route 11 when it struck the Jeep, operated by Sarah E. Richards, 30, of Canton. Ms. Richards was stopped on the road, preparing to turn left into the Medical Campus, according to police.

Her vehicle was pushed into the opposite lane and subsequently hit head-on by a 2014 Toyota RAV4, operated by Tammy P. Beaudin, 49, of Canton. Ms. Beaudin's vehicle ran off the road into a ditch.

Ms. Richards' vehicle was then struck on the rear of the driver's side by another vehicle, a 2014 Jeep Compass operated by Sarah L. Carver, 30, of Canton. Ms. Carver's vehicle then came to a rest on the shoulder of the road.

Ms. Richards, her front seat passenger and Ms. Beaudin were taken to Canton-Potsdam Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. Mr. Rickson was issued a court summons for following too closely.

Town Supervisor Mary Ann Ashley said the municipalities have been attempting to address the entrance's safety since 2018. Efforts have included requesting state lawmakers authorize Canton officials to reduce the Route 11 speed limit in front of the Medical Campus from 55 mph to 40 mph.

First introduced in the 2019-20 state legislative session by Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, the Senate and Assembly versions of the Canton bill call for the speed limit reduction specifically between mile markers 1320 and 1332, which are respectively staked at the Save A Lot plaza and just north of the Medical Campus.

The 2019-20 Senate bill passed, but the measure did not move out of the Assembly Transportation Committee. Reintroduced this legislative session, Senate Bill S1869 is on the floor calendar for a vote, and Assembly Bill A4760 has moved to the Transportation Committee for discussion. The pair of bills will need to pass both chambers before being signed into law.

State Vehicle and Traffic Law grants local municipalities authority to set speed limits, though the Department of Transportation generally has oversight of roads and greater oversight in municipalities with less than 50,000 people. The DOT also has higher authority in special speed consideration cases involving bridges, parking areas and controlled-access state highways.

Varying speed reduction requests in north country municipalities have filtered through the DOT for years. A speed reduction proposal is pending at the state level for the town of DeKalb to decrease the Route 11 limit from 55 mph to 45 mph near the entrance to Hermon-DeKalb Central School.

But a speed limit reduction may not work for Canton, town Councilor Robert J. Washo said.

"I do not believe the speed limit's going to dramatically improve the safety of that situation out there," he said of the Medical Campus area. "It's a bad spot."

Mr. Dalton said both the town and village have discussed other options with the DOT and St. Lawrence Health System, including expanding the road to incorporate a turning lane near the Medical Campus entrance.

With more discussion anticipated, Ms. Ashley said the work continues "to at least get the speed down."

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