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Following The Crash At Ithaca Commons, Schumer Called On Fed Highway Administration To Study Design Of Roads, Traffic Flows & Make Recommendations To Prevent Another Deadly Accident

Schumer: New Fed Money Could Help Put The Brakes On Unsafe Roads & Intersections

Standing in Ithaca, NY, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today returned to announce that the recently passed federal transportation bill included an additional $40 million in Highway Safety Improvement Program funding for New York State. Schumer said this funding can be used for safety improvement projects throughout New York State. Schumer said some of the funding from this program could be allocated to the City of Ithaca to help pay for road and intersections safety projects as well. Schumer explained that the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will be able to allocate this funding to safety projects, including for the critical improvements that were developed and suggested following the Road Safety Audit (RSA) that Schumer called for last year. 

“The tragic crash at Simeon’s Restaurant served as a wake-up call to everyone that a traffic safety overhaul at the east end of Ithaca Commons was needed as soon as possible. That is why I first called on the FHWA to conduct this federal road safety audit. Now, with this audit complete, the City of Ithaca and NYSDOT ‎have been able to implement some of the smaller, less costly improvements in order to begin making this intersection safer. But there is still more that needs to be done – and that is why I also fought for the extra $40 million in transportation funding that will go to New York State and allow safety improvement projects like this to get off the ground,” said Schumer. “So today I am here to let locals know about this important new federal funding stream that could help get some of these projects off the ground, so we can continue working to make Ithaca’s streets safer and prevent accidents like the deadly 2014 crash from ever happening again.”

During his visit, Schumer explained that the 5-year federal transportation bill, the FAST (Fixing Americas Surface Transportation) Act, was passed by Congress in December 2015 and included an additional $40 million in Highway Safety Improvement Program funding for New York State. As a result, the NYSDOT and MPOs across the state will have access to these new federal funds which they could allocate to‎ safety projects. Schumer therefore said a portion of this new funding could be allocated toward making the critical improvements that were developed and suggested following the Road Safety Audit (RSA) in Ithaca. In February 2015 Schumer pushed to make this audit a reality in the wake of the deadly crash at the intersection of Route 96 B and Route 79, including adjacent streets at the east end of the Ithaca Commons, in June 2014. During this accident, a tractor-trailer tragically lost control and slammed into Simeon’s on the Commons restaurant, killing a young woman inside and injuring seven others. 

Schumer said that while New York State will allocate some of this $40 million in funding to projects it has already listed as high priority, the regional MPO will have the ability to list local safety projects, including improvements in this dangerous section of the Ithaca Commons, as “high priority” as well. By ensuring some of the recommendations are high on the list of projects that should be funded with these new federal transportation dollars, Schumer said it could be possible for local residents in Ithaca to see the improvements they have been waiting for sooner rather than later. With this RSA now complete, Schumer said the recommendations put forth are aimed at making the dangerous intersection less hazardous and include suggested improvements like changing the design of the roads, traffic patterns, pavement markings, and nearby signs in order to prevent future accidents. Schumer said implementing these recommendations would be a valuable investment in making the area safer for local residents.

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 make the turn or stop in time. 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 brakes and there were, fortunately, no injuries.

On the heels of the great work done by the Tompkins County Truck Safety Committee following the 2014 Simeon’s crash, Schumer urged the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and NYSDOT to work with local stakeholders to undertake an RSA for this intersection. Schumer said the local task force did excellent work thinking through ways to improve trucking safety at this intersection and across the region, but technical support from the federal government was needed to identify the best ways to make this intersection as safe as possible and find the funding to make recommendations and improvements a reality.

Today, Schumer said the completion of the RSA and the allocation of federal funds to New York State provides the perfect opportunity for the City of Ithaca to get these intersection and road improvement projects funded. Schumer said the City of Ithaca and the NYSDOT have implemented some of the smaller, less costly recommendations to begin improving the area. The NYSDOT has also installed‎ truck pull offs on two of the roads prior the descent in the city, along with new warning and guide signs. However, Schumer said two of the larger recommendations come with high costs that a smaller city often has trouble shouldering.

Specifically, the City identified two larger, and costly, recommendations in the RSA report that the City of Ithaca would likely need additional funding to complete:

  • Analyzing circulation and traffic patterns at the intersection and around the Ithaca Commons
    • This would need to be studied by city further in conjunction with the NYSDOT, and the MPO would be able to offer technical assistance.
    • This study would more specifically look at road design, streetscape work, roadway improvements and the possibility of a installing a crash barrier.‎
    • The study would be the first step ‎in a more significant reworking of the roads, which could also be eligible for federal funding‎.
  • Increasing the quality of pavement markings throughout the whole crash corridor and potentially using more high visibility, durable pavement markings throughout Ithaca’s Downtown
    • This would make the area safer and more pedestrian friendly.
    • The city has indicated it would not be able to afford this widespread use of more durable pavement markings on its own.

Schumer said these kinds of recommendations could be funded with this new federal funding secured in the larger transportation bill. Additionally, because these two RSA-resultant project suggestions could potentially be more expensive than the city could handle alone, these new federal funds would alleviate the burden.

Schumer was joined by Mayor Svante Myrick, City of Ithaca; Mike Lane, Chairman of the Tompkins County Legislature; and Fernando de Aragón, Executive Director of Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council.‎

“Since the deadly crash at Simeon’s over a year ago, the City of Ithaca has taken steps to ensure the safety of all those who live in, work in, and visit Ithaca. We have already implemented some important changes and larger recommendations from the Road Safety Audit are more are currently being reviewed. We will move swiftly and work with Senator Schumer on securing federal funding to tackle these projects and make our streets safer,” said Svante Myrick, Mayor of the City of Ithaca.

“We are very grateful for Senator Schumer's assistance in securing a Road Safety Audit (RSA) for the roadways at the east end of the Commons in Ithaca. The RSA recommendations will help improve safety for motor vehicles as well as for bicyclists and pedestrians. The ITCTC will continue to work with the City of Ithaca and the NY State Department of Transportation to find the resources needed to implement the RSA recommendations‎,” said Fernando de Aragón, Executive Director of Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council.