SCHUMER: FIRE COMPANIES' EMERGENCY ACCESS TO INTERSTATES INADEQUATE - SLOWS RESPONSE TIMES, RISKS LIVES - LOCAL BIDS FOR EMERGENCY ROAD TO I-84 HAMPERED BY CONFUSING FED APPLICATION PROCESS
Fire Company Sits Adjacent to I-84 but Is Forced to Travel Miles to Reach the Nearest Interstate Entrance Ramps - Causing 3-6 Minute Response Time Delays Schumer Supports Fire Company's Plan to Petition FHWA to Build Emergency Road for Quicker Access to I-84, But Petition Process is Unclear and Confusing - Dragging Out Approval Process On Site Visit with NYSDOT Officials, Schumer Calls on FHWA to Make Emergency Access Road Applications a Top Priority; Provide Clearer and
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U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today said that a number of Hudson Valley Fire Departments have inadequate access to local highways, slowing response times and possibly risking lives. On a site visit to the Wiccopee Fire Company, a member of the East Fishkill Fire District, Schumer pointed out how the company sits adjacent to I84 but is forced to travel miles to reach the nearest interstate entrance ramps, causing a three to six minute delay to their response times. The fire district is planning to petition the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) and the New York State Department of Transportation for permission to build a simple emergency access road to the interstate, but an unclear and onerous application process has hampered their efforts.
Pointing to delays in the application process for similar efforts in the Hudson Valley, Schumer called for FHWA to make the application process for emergency access roads clearer and more streamlined. Schumer also called on the FHWA to immediately make these applications a top priority.
"There is no excuse for firefighters to have to travel miles out of their way when they can see the highway from their backyard. The absence of an emergency access road at the Wiccopee Fire Company could be threatening lives by slowing down response times," Schumer said. "The FHWA needs to prioritize these applications and make this application process more accessible for fire companies. The first minutes of any accident are the key to success, requiring expeditious and efficient responses. This emergency breakthrough can save lives on I84."
The Wiccopee Fire Company sits directly on I84 separated by just a chain link fence but instead of having direct access to the highway, is forced to drive between 1.5 to 4 miles away to reach the nearest interstate ramp. The drive slows down their response times by three to six minutes. Depending on traffic and road conditions, it can take up to twenty minutes for the company to respond to each of the over 90 incidents per year they handle. This is in light of the fact that the fire station is located on the side of the interstate - only separated by a chain link fence.
The fire company's primary response route from Shenandoah Road to Lime Kiln Road is 1.5 miles long and takes about three minutes to reach the interstate. Their secondary response routes are from Townsend Rd to Hosner Mountain Rd to Route 52 to Taconic State Parkway South is a 3.5 mile route that takes six minutes. Another secondary route uses Shenandoah Road to Miller Hill Road to Taconic State Parkway North to I84, which is four miles and takes about six minutes..
The East Fishkill Fire District, has sought the assistance of Senator Schumer, State Senator Saland, and Assemblyman Marc Molinaro to petition the FHWA to grant permission to build an emergency breakthrough access road. The road would dramatically cut response times by giving the Wiccopee Fire Company direct access to the highway, but FHWA's onerous application process has hampered their efforts.
FHWA lacks a clear and concise stepbystep guide for first responders that outlines how a fire company works with their state DOT and FHWA to gain approval for access road construction. This convoluted process forces fire companies to submit several different documents at different intervals to NYS DOT and FHWA, and the paperwork can sit in FHWA's regional offices for years. In addition, the application process is not clearly publicized or explained, leaving fire departments in the dark on the most efficient way to apply for the road.
In Orange County, both the Slate Hill Fire District and Greenville Fire District have faced similar bureaucratic stumbling blocks to gaining emergency access to Interstate I84.
"We need a clearly established and streamlined application process that tells our first responders how to move forward in creating these emergency breakthroughs," continues Schumer. " Bureaucratic red tape is making it more difficult for our first responders to do their jobs. Without an efficient and clear application process, our local emergency responders are forced to wade through a sea of red tape, never knowing whether they're swimming in the right direction."
Identifying the need for the road, and in an effort to cut down on emergency response times in the Hudson Valley, Schumer called for FHWA - in a personal letter to FHWA Administrator Thomas Madison - to implement three easy steps to make the application process for emergency access roads more streamlined.
Step 1: FHWA should create a delineated, stepbystep set of guidelines that direct fire companies on how to move through the process. This would be similar to how the Department of Homeland Security gives clear instructions for fire companies that wish to apply for fire grants.
Step 2: Each FHWA regional office should have a staff member who will act as the main point of contact for emergency access road applications.
Step 3: The new application process must be made readily available and widelyknown to fire departments.
Schumer said that while he understands the need for a rigorous application process, the FHWA should educate fire companies on the application process, making it easier to apply for the emergency breakthroughs .
Finally, Schumer called on the FHWA to immediately make the access road applications a top priority within the agency.
"We need to take these potentially lifesaving applications off the back burner and make them a top priority," Schumer said.
Below is a full copy of the letter:
November 10, 2008
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue
Washington , DC 20590
Dear Mr. Madison,
I write today to request that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) take steps to clarify and streamline the application process for the approval of emergency access road construction onto interstate highways. I am specifically concerned that the current process is onerous and confusing to applicants, especially first time applicants like the Wiccopee Fire Company in East Fishkill, NY. FHWA lacks a clear and concise stepbystep guide that outlines how a fire company works with their state department of transportation (DOT) and FHWA to gain approval for access road construction. Furthermore, I am concerned that FHWA is not appropriately prioritizing these applications.
The Wiccopee Fire Company sits adjacent to Interstate 84 in New York State, but its emergency response teams are forced to travel miles to reach the nearest entrance ramps, causing a significant delay to their response times. The fire district is planning to petition FHWA for permission to build a simple emergency access road to the interstate, but they are understandably confused and have had a difficult time understanding the formal application process. The fire company is forced to drive between 1.5 to 4 miles away to reach the nearest ramp onto the interstate. As you know, time is precious in an emergency situation.
The current route the Wiccopee Fire Company is forced to utilize slows down their response times by three to six minutes. Depending on traffic and road conditions, it can take up to twenty minutes for the company to respond to an average of over 90 incidents per year. This in light of the fact that the fire station is located on the side of the interstate, separated by a chain link fence.
While I understand the need for a certain amount of rigor in any construction project, there is a need for FHWA to give more guidance to applicants in this process. Because applicants must submit numerous relevant documents through their state DOT, I ask that FHWA write out a clear set of guidelines that direct fire companies how to move through the process, similar to how the Department of Homeland Security gives clear instructions for fire companies that wish to apply for federal grants. This clearly delineated stepbystep application process should be made available to our first responders.
These steps will go a long way in helping to ensure that firefighters and emergency medical technicians are able to reach an accident scene as quickly as possible. I also ask that FHWA consider giving special priority to emergency services access road applicants.
I look forward to hearing your response on how FHWA will address this important issue. If you have any further questions, please contact Jason Abel in my office at 2022246542.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
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