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Funding query stalls E. Chatham span light


CHATHAM–On December 19, at the last Town Board meeting of 2019, the board tabled a motion to authorize the “implementation and funding for federal and state aid for the Albany Turnpike Road Traffic Signal project.” The traffic light would be the first in the town and would control traffic on the Albany Turnpike Bridge in East Chatham.

The bridge was replaced in 2013 by CSX, the railroad company that owns the tracks below. Once the new, one-lane bridge was open, area residents came to town meetings to express concern about safety issues on and around the bridge. The board discussed ways to make it safer, which included reducing the speed limit on the bridge and installing mirrors (which are not approved by the state).

The board eventually settled on designs that would create an exit lane from Route 295 leading to the bridge and a traffic light. The state awarded the town a grant for the project and plans went to the state Department of Transportation (DOT) for approval.

The Town Board reported in November that construction of the light was supposed to start this winter or in the early spring. When asked by The Columbia Paper at the December meeting whether holding up the funding would affect construction, town Supervisor Maria Lull said she didn’t know. She also said that the town’s engineers were still waiting for bids.

During the discussion on the resolution at the meeting, Councilman John Wapner said he was concerned about wording from the state that would require the town to pay for the $250,000 project and then receive the funding from the state. He said it was not clear from the wording about the process what the town would end up paying for and what would be reimbursed.

Ms. Lull said of the funding, “Eventually you get it back.”

“We’ve been wrestling with this for a while,” she said of the bridge project.

At the end of the meeting, Chatham Supervisor-elect Donal Collins said of the situation at the bridge, “I think it’s better off without” the light. He said he supported leaving the intersection as it is now.

After the meeting, in an email to a town residents who was concerned about the board tabling the motion, Ms. Lull said that the town has spent money on engineering for the bridge project but also pointed out that the board has secured at $250,000 DOT grant for the project.

She also wrote, “CSX, not the town, should be paying to rectify the problem on the Albany Turnpike bridge with a traffic signal and reconfiguration of the intersection. CSX caused the problem and should be responsible for correcting it. CSX wants the town to take ownership of the bridge. It has been this Town Board’s position that the town should take ownership once the project is completed and the town is reimbursed for all expenses relating to the project. Our town attorney has agreed with this position and considers the town’s position defensible.”

This was the last meeting for Ms. Lull and Councilmen Bob Balcom and Michael Richardson. Mr. Balcom did not run for reelection in November after 12 years on the board. Mr. Richardson and Ms. Lull were defeated in their reelection bids. Mr. Richardson was appointed to the board in November of 2018. Ms. Lull was elected supervisor in 2016 and had served as a board member since 2010.

Mr. Collins and new board members Abi Mesick and Vance Pitkin will take office in January.

Town resident Randi Walker spoke at the beginning of the meeting, thanking the board for their “long, hard service.”

Resident Cindy Bobseine sent a letter also thanking each board member and mentioning their accomplishments on the board. Ms. Bobseine is chair of the Chatham Democratic Committee. All three of the departing members of the board are Democrats.

Ms. Lull thanked her fellow board members and also mentioned former board member Landra Haber, who resigned in 2018.

“We did a lot of good things and I wish all good things to the new administration,” Ms. Lull said.

The next board meeting will be the organizational meeting Thursday, January 2 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall on Route 295.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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