SUNY, DOT looking at Route 7


By Jim Poole

Victorian lighting, a median down the center of Route 7, trees and landscaping, maybe even a roundabout––that’s what SUNY Cobleskill officials want at the west end of the village.
They’d like to link those improvements to state Department of Transportation’s plans to replace the Route 7 bridge by Stewart’s in 2011.
About 15 college, DOT, village and business representatives met Wednesday at SUNY to discuss the bridge replacement, related improvements and the effect the project will have on nearby businesses.
College Provost Anne Myers said officials looked at the bridge replacement as a chance for redesigning the western entrance to the village. The new look could start with the bridge itself, she said.
After DOT Region 9 Director Jack Williams asked for thoughts on bridge design, Dr. Myers responded that one “like Middleburgh’s bridge”––with Victorian lighting and a sidewalk––would be best.
“We want more of a link between the college and the community,” Dr. Myers said, adding that the bridge should be bike- and pedestrian-friendly.
DOT Project Manager Charlie Walker said preliminary bridge design may be finished in about five months, and local officials could have input.
Other parts of the project would realign the Route 7 intersections with Bridge Street and McArthur Avenue. Deputy Mayor Sandy MacKay said McArthur is slated for work this summer, but it won’t be affected by DOT project in 2011.
Improvements sought by SUNY would aim to tie the campus, which straddles Route 7, together and also slow down traffic, said Phil Arnold, SUNY’s director of Facilities Management.
“We want to make it more pedestrian-friendly and slow down traffic so people know they’re driving through a campus,” Mr. Arnold said.
A planted median––similar to on Route 7 at Cobleskill’s East End––landscaping and new lighting would accomplish those purposes, Mr. Arnold said.
Money is an issue, Mr. Williams said, though DOT has a grant program that allows communities to apply for money to fund tie-in programs on DOT projects.
By seeking grants, other funding and the DOT program, the college could see what it might raise to pay for some of the improvements, Dr. Myers said.
Carl Rubenstein, the campus liaison for SUNY construction, gave rough estimates for the improvements: $500,000 to $700,000 for the Route 7 work and $1.5 million for the roundabout by the Hess station.
“I have nobody pounding on my desk saying that we spend a million dollars on Route 7 in Cobleskill,” Mr. Williams said.
The roundabout would be expensive, he added, and also less safe for pedestrians, contrary to what SUNY leaders believed.
But Mr. Williams encouraged officials to seek funding for the median and landscaping. He said the entire bridge-Route 7 project could be tied together; DOT would build the median if the college secured the money.
The group also discussed traffic detours during the bridge replacement, which would take one construction season.
Truck traffic would be routed onto I-88, getting off at Shad Point to reach Cobleskill, Mr. Walker said.
Local traffic, he said, will use McArthur Avenue, Mineral Springs Road and Elm Street to get from one end of Cobleskill to the other.
“They’ll find their way around,” Mr. Walker said.
The detours led to concerns of how the project would affect businesses, especially Kelley Farm and Garden, which is just west of the bridge. Nearly 25 years ago, a re-design of Route 23 in Stamford decimated businesses there.
Mr. Williams said DOT isn’t equipped to help businesses directly, adding that such help is the job of local officials.
Brian Kaiser of Cobleskill Partnership Inc., the local downtown business group, said the lead time of three years on the project should provide enough time to develop a plan to help local merchants.
Dr. Myers agreed, adding that college and local leaders should strive to avoid a Stamford situation.
“We have time for a public relations campaign to reach customers,” Mr. Kaiser said.
Dr. Myers plans to organize a Cobleskill committee to work on the Route 7 improvements and a business plan. DOT officials said they’ll be back in late spring or early summer to discuss the bridge and related improvements.