March 4, 2013
The Croton Point Avenue improvements: the facts
The proposed Croton Point Avenue project is a comprehensive improvement and upgrade of traffic, pedestrian, and bicycle routes along Croton Point Avenue from Veteran’s Plaza, at the Croton-Harmon Train Station, to South Riverside Avenue, and then north on South Riverside Avenue to its intersection with Benedict Boulevard.
The official name of this project is “The Croton-Harmon Parking Facility Vehicular, Pedestrian and Bicycle Enhancement” (i.e. that is title of our federal grant award).
The proposed work includes:
- Widening a short section of Veterans Plaza at Croton Point Ave to 4-lanes (creating 2 entering and 2 exiting so it matches the 4-lane vehicle pattern on Croton Point Avenue).
- Adding three new traffic signal installations along Croton Point Avenue at (a) Veteran's Plaza, (b) US Route 9 southbound on/off-ramps and (c) US Route 9 northbound on/off-ramps;
- Constructing a right turn lane on the US Route 9 southbound off-ramp onto Croton Point Avenue;
- Narrowing the Route 9 northbound on-ramp intersection with Croton Point Avenue;
- Improving drainage for storm water management;
- Repaving both Croton Point Avenue and S. Riverside Avenue;
- Construction of a bike lane and sidewalk on both sides of Croton Point Avenue.
Our goal is simple: MAKE CROTON POINT AVENUE SAFER FOR ALL MODES OF TRANSIT - including cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers, mopeds, etc.
The Village has secured $1.7 million in combined funding from the federal and county government for these improvements. The federal funds will pay for $1.2 million (covering 80% of the project up to $1.5 million of total project cost). In addition, the County Legacy program makes an additional $0.5 million available for road maintenance and resurfacing.
The federal money–as it usually does–comes with strings attached: It requires a multi-modal improvement (which means making the road safer for all the modes of transit). The current cost estimate, based on engineering tables, is between $2.5 and $2.8 million. The Village will pick up the difference between final price and the federal matching and county reimbursement funds.
The bulk of the cost is for two elements: synchronized and adjustable traffic signals and the reconfiguration of two highway ramps. Of the entire estimated cost, only about $100,000 is for the bicycle lanes.
The next step is for the engineer, Clough Harbor Associates, to prepare a Design Report which must meet NYS DOT approval before final drawings to use for soliciting construction bids can be prepared.
The new Croton Point Avenue cross section will include the following:
- Eastbound: sidewalk (4 to 5 feet wide), curb, bicycle lane (5 feet wide), two vehicle travel lanes (11 feet wide each);
- Westbound: two vehicle travel lanes (11 feet wide each), bicycle lane (5 feet wide), curb, sidewalk (4 to 5 feet wide).
Forty years ago, the State of New York’s Department of Transportation did whatever it wanted without consulting the Village, but this time the Village is in the driver’s seat as the project leader.
In 1965, New York State proposed the Hudson River Expressway as I-487, an interstate highway that was to run 47 miles on the east side of the Hudson River from I-87 in the Bronx to I-84 east of Beacon.
The new interstate road met stiff opposition from the Hudson River towns and was cancelled just six years later in 1971. I-487 was one of the very few suburban highways projects in the nation at that time to be permanently halted.
Ironically, only one section of I-487 was built. The only section of the Hudson River Expressway ever completed was built in Croton and is called the Croton Expressway.
The Croton Expressway runs 9 miles from the Croton River north to Peekskill and is generally built to interstate standards to accommodate high vehicle volume at high speeds. The Expressway has certainly succeeded in attracting lots of high-speed traffic, as our Village’s police, fire, and ambulance records show.
Constructing this four-lane expressway demolished much of Croton’s existing Harmon and North Riverside districts and destroyed much of the “old Croton” as recalled by long time residents. The Expressway required re-routing many of our surface streets to accommodate the notions of where the state wanted on-off-ramps. The State did not ask Croton where to place the highway overpasses and ramps.
Our Village was separated from its working waterfront and from its very busy Croton Harmon train station.
That divorce of a community from two of its prime assets, the Hudson waterfront and the railroad, sparked much of the original citizen opposition that thankfully spared dozens of our neighboring municipalities from a similar fate.
We finally have a chance to use some federal funds to fix some of the long-standing problems the insertion of Croton Expressway created.
In early 2008 under Mayor Schmidt, the Village issued a Request for Proposal to planning and traffic consultants for a Croton Harmon Parking Facility Vehicular, Pedestrian, and Bicycle Traffic Study. The resulting study, performed by the RBA Group, inventoried the existing conditions and identified several potential solutions. With the help of then Congressman John Hall, the Village applied for federal funding in the summer of 2008 under the Transportation Enhancement Grant Program.
In the spring of 2009, the Village received the Grant Award Letter and began the process of working with the NYS Department of Transportation on selecting an engineering firm as the project coordinator. Over the next three years, the Village held numerous meetings on the project both with the state and the public. Meanwhile, the need for the improvements has continued to climb.
Traffic volume rising
Vehicle volume on the Route 9 expressway within Croton has climbed steadily in the past few years, as NYSDOT records atttest. During the morning peak hour, commuters arriving southbound at Croton Point Avenue for the station often queue up on the off-ramp onto the travel lanes of the Expressway itself.
This condition of a stationary vehicle in a high-speed travel lane is a recipe for a major morning pile up. We avoid that now by having our traffic attendant hand signal that off-ramp, at Village expense and in all kinds of weather. That places our attendant at the bottom of the ramp, hoping multitasking drivers slowing down from highway speed will see and heed him or her.
In addition, our Croton-Harmon Train Station commuter lot is busier than projected. This brings welcome parking revenue to the Village of Croton, but more traffic exacerbates the bottlenecks on Croton Point Avenue. In short, parking demand is climbing fast, largely from commuters outside the Village who arrive via Route 9. We may expect this trend to continue as fuel prices and tolls continue to rise, making rail commuting ever more attractive.
Safety remains a top concern
Police records show numerous vehicle-pedestrian or vehicle-cyclist collisions do occur on this stretch of road. We don’t know how many vehicle-vehicle fender benders occurred that go unreported. Both the left hand turns across oncoming traffic and the double lane turns into and out of the three lanes of Veterans Way at the Station entrance are dangerous conditions that this improvement would make safer.
In addition, we have a steady volume of pedestrians who walk between the Station and the ShopRite Plaza on the south side of Croton Point Avenue. They do so now with no sidewalk, crossing multiple highway ramps and passing under the highway viaduct with no street lighting, walking either on the unpaved curb or the dirt shoulder of the road against the guardrail.
To top off the traffic mess the state created forty years ago, the County Bee Line chose to place one bus stop for northbound passengers directly on the off-ramp of the highway. This means that every day, bus commuters have to stand at the end of the ramp by the guardrail as vehicles come off the ramp onto Croton Point Avenue at highway speeds. The conflict is clear and the danger unnecessary.
The project will include synchronization of two existing traffic signals on South Riverside and Benedict and South Riverside and Croton Point Avenue with the three new signals proposed for Croton Point Avenue. In sum, we will create a traffic signal system that can be adjusted to different traffic patterns throughout the day, by upgrading to state of the art computerized controls, replacing the 1970’s era simple timer driven lights. These signals would replace the need for traffic control officers at the intersections during peak hours of the day.
A few years ago, the Village took over South Riverside Avenue and Croton Point Avenue from the County. At that time, the County sweetened the deal by earmarking funds for maintenance that the Village may draw down. The old concrete slab roadway, dating from the 1940’s, when Riverside Avenue was the main highway north-south is beginning to fail. With each passing storm more chunks of concrete break away and the roadway surface is beginning to pothole. Once this begins, a roadbed normally decays at a much more rapid rate and the existing road is at the end of its service life.
We plan to use this opportunity and the County’s funds to repave the entire stretch of South Riverside and Croton Point Avenue–from the Harmon business district down to the Station entrance. Simply put, the entrance to the Village is a textbook case of decaying infrastructure and needs to be repaired. No one is going to step up to do this except the Village.
Village’s borrowing rates are at historic lows
The Village takes on debt to finance long-term improvements. Each year the Village retires older bonds while taking on new bonds for new work. As it happens, these often about match each other in dollar amounts.
For example, in the current fiscal year we retired about $1.8 million in bonds and took on about $1.9 million in new bonds. Yet, our new borrowing will cost us less than the bonds we retired did. Why? We can thank today’s low interest rates.
The Village has an excellent credit rating, Aa2, the highest a municipality of our size may earn.
We are refunding bonds from 2002 through 2005 now, to lock in lower interest rates. The refunding interest rate will be at least 3% lower than the existing rate. Five years ago, bonding $1 million cost the Village about $78,000 per year. Today, bonding $1 million costs the Village less than $60,000 per year.
If the actual Croton Point Avenue improvement project cost is $2.8 million, the Village would bond $1.1 million, at a cost of about $66,000 per year.
Our Parking Lot is budgeted for $2.8 million in revenue this year, but is running $100,000 ahead of that year to date. Increased revenue from our new hourly spaces (a.k.a. “daily lot”) would more than pay for the debt service on the Croton Point Avenue improvements.
The bottom line is that this infrastructure improvement will more than pay for itself in increased parking revenue and reduced labor costs, while making this gateway safer for everyone who passes through it.
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