FONDA - While the crowd was smaller at the latest public hearing about the railroad crossings in the village, the sentiment was the same: Don't close either.
Wednesday morning's hearing was held in the Fonda-Fultonville Central School auditorium. It was moved from the county Annex Building to accommodate what was a standing-room-only crowd at the previous hearing in March, but fewer people were in attendance this time.
Both crossings - one on Broadway and one on South Center Street - were ordered closed during construction of a new overpass that carries Route 30A over the CSX railroad tracks. The state Department of Transportation originally wanted to keep both crossings closed permanently.
Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Dwight Schwabrow speaks during the public hearing on a plan for Fonda railroad crossings at Fonda-Fultonville High School on Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
The second public hearing was necessary because DOT proposed a new plan to allow access to emergency vehicles by means of a key-operated gate and fence at the Broadway crossing.
Edward Rosen, head of the grade crossing division at DOT in Albany, described the department's new plan. Both crossings would remain closed, but gates and fences would be placed at either end of the Broadway crossing. They could be opened by emergency personnel.
"With the installation and activation of the new bridge on Route 30A, all our data indicates that all traffic - emergency and otherwise - can be accommodated by the new structure," he said. "We are comfortable with the full closure of both crossings to vehicular traffic. There is no need for two-way traffic over the crossings."
DOT's proposal also includes the installation of sidewalks and curbs on the eastern side of the crossing to accommodate pedestrian traffic, Rosen said. DOT officials determined the Broadway crossing was a more appropriate location for pedestrian access.
"We recognize the concerns about access to the southern part of the village [of Fonda]," he said. "The concerns are real, and we do not dismiss them in the least."
Either DOT or the railroad would pay for installation of the system, Rosen said. The village would be responsible for maintaining the structure, and Montgomery County emergency management personnel would open and close the system.
Whether the system is operated by keys, swipe cards or some other method would be up to local emergency management officials, Rosen said.
Rosen was asked by DOT associate attorney Donna Hintz what would happen if the new plan were turned down.
"We would proceed to Plan B, a straightforward closure of both crossings," Rosen said. "We're hoping to work out an accommodation."
Robert Rohauer, manager of community affairs and safety for CSX, said his company's position has not changed.
"Safety is our first priority," he said. "We would like to see both crossings closed completely."
Rohauer said the situation in the village is complicated by the fact the crossings are close to the intersection of Routes 5 and 30A, and the warning devices on the Broadway crossing would have to be synchronized with the traffic lights at the intersection. Very few railroad crossings in the entire system have that need, he said.
Mayor William Peeler said closing the crossings would have a negative effect on half the geographic area of the village. The municipal operations of the village, town of Mohawk and Montgomery County would be affected, as would village residents in general, he said.
"We have no confidence in this proposed order [to close the crossings]. It increases human interaction, which raises the risk," he said.
Donald Way, retired fire chief in Fonda, said the railroad employed a crossing guard on Park Street when he was a boy, and that would make more sense now than DOT's current plan.
"There were never any problems," he said.
Montgomery County Undersheriff Jeffery T. Smith said the Sheriff's Department opposes any closings. He cited an incident April 24, when a tractor-trailer broke down and caused gridlock.
"By the time deputies arrived, traffic was already going down Park Street," he said.
Village resident Pauline O'Neill said she felt threatened by Rosen's statement that DOT would proceed with a plan to close both crossings if the latest proposal is turned down.
"This isn't just about emergencies; it's about quality of life," she said.
John R. Becker covers Montgomery County news. He can be reached at email@example.com.