Driving or parking in the village of Chatham can be a deflating experience.
To be certain, the much discussed state Department of Transportation reconstruction project is revamping Main Street and Route 66, bringing new sidewalks and pavement and a new design to the traffic circle. But, the project—a year into its construction phase—is also bringing headaches to drivers used to navigating the village in the same predictable ways.
Village officials report numerous complaints about the status of the project, and businesses report several complaints from shoppers who have blown tires hitting the new curbs while attempting to park on Main Street. An 80-year-old driver even destroyed the front-end of her car on November 6 after driving around a turning car and running into one of the new “bump-outs” that flank pedestrian crosswalks.
"The curbing is a real issue. . . . It seems to be lethal for people's tires," said Kathy Stumph, president of the sixty-member Chatham Business Alliance.
According to business owners, motorists are striking the new curbs while driving or parking their cars, and the resulting expense—which can be upwards of $100 a tire—is leaving them angry and not in the mood for shopping.
"When people get flat tires, they are not going to come back to the village to go shopping, and that's a real concern," said Stumph.
Also an issue is the new rotary that replaced the traffic circle in front of Tracy Memorial Village Hall.
"It's confining, and people get nervous because they are don't feel like they have enough space to maneuver," said Village Trustee George Grant.
Stumph said the business alliance is in the process of drafting a letter to the state Department of Transportation expressing concerns about the design of the project. However, she said, the alliance is awaiting feedback from some "key constituents"—the fire department, rescue squad, and the drivers of large vehicles—to determine if they too have concerns over the design of the traffic circle and other aspects of the project. "We want to see if it is reducing their response times," Stumph said.
Department of Transportation spokeswoman Sandra Jobson said there is always an "adjustment period" for drivers following such extensive construction work. "It's something we see over and over again," she said. "The new curbs look really big, and people just need time to get used to them."
The curbs are now 7.5 inches tall. When the final paving is done next spring they will stand only 6 inches above the roadway. The previous curbs were no more than 3 or 4 inches tall after years of wear and tear, Jobson said.
While there is not much that can be done for the roadway this year to reduce the height of the curbs before the winter, Jobson said gravel will be placed on the sidewalk side before winter to reduce the “trip-and-fall factor.” As to the rotary, she said that research has demonstrated that a rotary is a much safer option than a traffic circle.
Jobson explained that the project started last fall following more than a year of design work and public meetings. Extensive public input on the project was sought and received at meetings held in the Chatham firehouse and elsewhere, she noted.
According to Jobson, the project was deemed necessary because of "serious" drainage problems in the area and what DOT officials determined to be traffic concerns at the circle in front of Tracy Hall, as well as at the intersection of Main Street and Railroad Avenue.
Stumph noted that the workers have been great and businesses have praised the efforts by construction workers to complete work that shut down Main Street ahead of schedule, but the plans, she said, miss the mark.
"I find no fault with the workers. . . . It’s the plans that I question," Stumph said.
Adjustment to the new design is "just something that is going to take time,” said Grant. “If people take their time, we’ll get through it. In the end, I think people will be happy with what we end up with."
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