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EDITORIAL: How slow can we go?


WHO INVENTED HOLIDAYS? In the news business, they just cause problems. Whenever normal folks relax and turn off their phones, news people scrounge for stories. Unnamed sources go to the beach and politicians actually spend more time with their families. Such thoughtless behavior creates what’s called a “slow news cycle.”

It was so slow in Chatham last Thursday that I was thrilled to see a Fox News 23 TV truck parked on Main Street around 10 p.m. You couldn’t miss it with the lights shining on the sidewalk and passers-by peering inside the control room. The network had unearthed something big. The guys in the truck were about to feed a live segment. Cool.

What’s up?

People are complaining that their tires are being slashed by the granite curbstones installed by the state last year, they said. Just then the reporter walked across the street. He wore a white shirt and a tie still firmly knotted at his neck. He carried a tire. He said a woman had given it to him as evidence of the damage from the curbstones.

How fast was she driving? Not fast, he said. Then he shrugged and said, “but she was on her cell phone.”

I got home in time to catch the segment. The reporter was squatting next to his tire right where I left him.

Somebody probably should have told him that the curbstone problem first became news almost three years ago, that the state remains in denial about it and that if he promised not to show their faces he might have persuaded some of the frustrated local merchants to demonstrate how it’s possible to tap the sharp edges of the curbstones at just the right spot and literally chip away at the problem as long as no one in an official capacity notices. I didn’t have the heart. Would it matter to the station’s viewers in Albany, Saratoga or Amsterdam?

The slow news cycle also creates a kind of feeding frenzy among news organizations, if anything smells like news we all pounce. The Times Union newspaper’s consumer advocate Cathy Woodruff wrote a piece that very morning about the Chatham curbstones, with a lot more background and context. I have no idea whether the Fox News decided to do its Chatham curbstone piece after reading the Times Union story, but such things happen. And here I am feeding off their stories, unless, of course, the Times Union got some of its information from this newspaper.

Ms. Woodruff also got some of the bigger story, which lies in the tale of the state Department of Transportation having spent years planning the Chatham road and drainage improvement project and then millions of dollars making it happen only to fail to achieve one of the project’s two main goals. Drainage has improved, but the worst intersection in the village remains just that. Where Routes 66 and 295 merge at an oblique angle, they force southbound motorists into heart-stopping maneuvers just to navigate this junction.

As part of the Chatham project the DOT built a turnout complete a fake-brick road surface and indecipherable road signs. And then, just is the project came to a halt, a crew showed up and pounded steel stakes across the opening, completely blocking it off to traffic. It’s a perfect place to tether your mule if you happen to travel by mule.

Ms. Woodruff says the DOT told her the solution is a traffic light, but there is no date set to install one.

It’s a scandal that the DOT walked away from this project without completing the one aspect so clearly related to driver safety. It’s as if no one in a position of authority noticed that the intersection lies next to the CSX railroad tracks. Does the DOT really want us to believe it has no one in the agency was smart enough to figure that out before construction started? What do we pay these people to do?

The pace of news often subsides around holidays, but all sorts of circumstances affect our lives regardless of the calendar. So thanks Fox News 23 and Times Union. On a slow news week you reminded us of a problem that needs attention and that it’s up to us to do something about it.

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