06.02.15

SCHUMER ANNOUNCES FEDS HAVE AGREED TO MEET & WORK WITH LOCALS AND NYS DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION TO AUDIT AND EVALUATE SITE OF DEADLY ITHACA COMMONS TRUCK CRASH; EFFORT COULD HELP PAVE THE WAY FOR FED FUNDING TO IMPROVE SAFETY AT THE INTERSECTION TO HELP PREVENT ACCIDENTS LIKE LAST SUMMER’S FROM HAPPENING

In June 2014, One Person Died & Seven Were Injured When A Tractor-Trailer Failed To Veer Onto Route 79 & Instead Came Barreling Down East Hill Into Simeon’s Restaurant; Two Other Recent Accidents Occurred at Same Spot – Schumer Pushed For Fed Safety Audit That Would Look At Design of Roads, Traffic Flow & More; Identify Potential Improvements

 Following Schumer’s Push, Fed. Highway Administration Agreed To Partner With State & Locals on Fed. Safety Audit, And NYSDOT Has Said They Will Prioritize Study Recommendations for Fed. Funding – Fed Audit is a Priority of Tompkins & Ithaca Officials; Will Augment The Excellent Work Done By Truck Safety Committee To Ensure Safety Already

 Schumer: Fed Safety Audit Will Now Identify How To Make Intersection As Safe As Possible

 

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that, following his push, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has agreed to meet and work with the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and local officials in Ithaca on a federal road safety audit at the intersection of Route 96 B and Route 79. Schumer explained that, in February, he called on the FHWA to conduct this study and meet with locals so as to find a way to make the intersection, including adjacent streets at the east end of the Ithaca Commons, safer.

Last summer, a tractor-trailer tragically lost control and slammed into Simeon’s-on-the-Commons restaurant, killing a young woman inside and injuring seven others. Following this deadly crash, the Tompkins County Truck Safety Committee came up with a set of suggestions for improving the trucking safety at the intersection.

To build upon the excellent work of the safety committee, Schumer and his office worked to push the FHWA to conduct a road safety audit, which will now examine and analyze the intersection, including the design of the roads, the traffic flow and mix, and other characteristics, and identify possible safety improvements, like installing crash attenuators. FHWA agreed to participate in a road safety audit with NYSDOT and the local stakeholders, and has scheduled a preliminary meeting with NYSDOT to discuss the path forward. Schumer also said that the NYSDOT has agreed to prioritize these recommendations for safety improvements when they submit requests for federal funding. Schumer therefore renewed his push in urging the FHWA to prioritize federal highway dollars toward the improvements that emerge from the Road Safety Audit so that construction can begin as soon as possible.

“This is great news for both the City of Ithaca and the residents and visitors who enjoy the Commons area every day – because they should never have to worry about spending time on the city’s vibrant pedestrian mall because of a hazardous intersection. This federal safety audit will now allow the FHWA to work with locals and New York State to identify ways we can improve this intersection so we can prevent accidents like last summer’s from happening again,” said Schumer. “Making this intersection safer is at the top of my priorities, and the Federal Highway Administration will now have it at the top of theirs too. Finally, I am renewing my push and urging the FHWA to prioritize federal highway funding for any safety recommendations produced by this study. I will be watching this project like a hawk so that construction and improvements can get underway as soon as possible.”

Schumer explained that, in June 2014, a tractor-trailer driving west on East State Street/Route 79 failed to veer to the side to stay on Route 79 when it crashed into a four-story building in downtown Ithaca. When the truck lost control, it crashed into Simeon’s restaurant located at the east end of the Ithaca Commons, killing one woman inside and leaving seven others injured. Following the crash, it was determined that the tractor-trailer’s brakes failed and the truck, quickly picking up speed as it headed down the steep incline on Route 79, was unable to stop. Schumer said this truck crash was not an isolated incident, and this intersection has previously experienced close calls and accidents. Over the last six years, including the Simeon’s crash, there have been three incidents involving trucks at this very spot. The other two were both extremely close calls, including one where a dump truck missed a turn, overturned and glided into a building on Rt. 79 going into the City of Ithaca, and another where a truck lost control of its breaks and there were, fortunately, no injuries.

On the heels of the great work done by the Tompkins County Truck Safety Committee following the June Simeon’s crash, Schumer visited Ithaca in February to urge the FHWA and NYSDOT to work with local stakeholders to undertake a Road Safety Audit (RSA) for this intersection. Schumer explained that this local task force has done excellent work thinking through ways to improve trucking safety at this intersection and across the region. Now that the FHWA has agreed to work with locals and NYSDOT to make this audit a reality, Schumer said, technical support from the federal government will be used to identify the best ways to make this intersection as safe as possible and find the funding to make recommendations and improvements a reality.

Schumer said this federal safety audit will augment the local task force’s efforts by providing the FHWA’s technical expertise to supplement these local safety recommendations. Schumer said the audit aims to identify the best ways to make this intersection safer for the long term. Road Safety Audits (RSA) are conducted by the FHWA in partnership with state Departments of Transportation and other stakeholders to identify safety hazards and develop recommendations for overall safety improvements to highways. An RSA is a formal process that consists, among other elements, of selecting an RSA team and stakeholders, performing field reviews, conducting an analysis and preparing an RSA report. This report then presents and incorporates findings from the audit into a final project to increase safety. Schumer said the FHWA would work with the NYSDOT and the local Tompkins County Truck Safety Committee task force to conduct this audit, which would examine and analyze the intersection, including the design of the roads, the traffic flow and mix, and other characteristics, and identify possible safety improvements, like installing crash attenuators. According to the FHWA, RSAs can be used in any phase of project development, from planning and preliminary engineering, to design and construction. RSAs can also be used on any sized project from minor intersection and roadway retrofits to mega-projects.

Schumer is also urging FHWA to prioritize federal highway dollars toward the recommendations that emerge from the RSA so that improvements can begin as soon as possible. During his February visit, Schumer pushed for any potential hazard mitigation recommendations produced by this RSA to be given a high priority for federal highway funding so that improvements can expeditiously be approved and get underway.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s initial letter to the FHWA appears below:

Dear Acting Administrator Nadeau and Commissioner McDonald:

I write to urge the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to undertake a Road Safety Audit for the intersection of Route 96 B and Route 79, including adjacent streets at the east end of the Ithaca Commons, to identify safety issues and develop recommendations for improvements.

In June 2014, a tractor-trailer driving west on E. State Street/Route 79 failed to veer to the side to stay on Route 79, and crashed into a four-story building. The accident left one person dead and several injured. It was later determined that the tractor-trailer’s brakes failed and the truck, quickly picking up speed as it headed down the steep incline on Route 79, was unable to stop. In the aftermath of this tragedy, local officials put together a task force to develop recommendations to improve truck safety, which they released last month. On the heels of the great work that the Tompkins County Truck Safety Committee has done, I urge FHWA and NYSDOT to work with local stakeholders to undertake a Road Safety Audit for this intersection. The Tompkins County Truck Safety Committee has laid the groundwork to improve trucking safety at this intersection and across the region; now they need the technical support to identify the best ways to make this intersection as safe as possible.

A Road Safety Audit would examine and analyze the intersection, including the design of the roads, the traffic flow and mix, and other characteristics, and identify possible safety improvements, like installing crash attenuators. Additionally, I would urge that any potential hazard mitigation recommendations produced by this Road Safety Audit be given a high priority for federal highway funding so that improvements can begin as soon as possible.

Thank you for your attention to this important request.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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