MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The state Department of Transportation (DOT) has turned off the right-turn arrow on the traffic light at the Route 6/6N fork, leaving motorists confused and some town officials angry.
Supervisor Ken Schmitt said the problem arose over a month ago when he received a report that the light was malfunctioning. The DOT was notified and sent out a technician for assessment. The technician discovered that the button that operates the walk/don’t walk sign at the pedestrian crosswalk near Crossroad Deli was broken and a new switch had to be ordered to repair it.
“A week later, I noticed a repair crew from the DOT there and had a conversation with them and they said we were all set, and the light was working,” Schmitt recalled. “At that point [the crosswalk] was working and the green arrow was working.”
Then a few days later Schmitt received a call from a DOT rep who told him that they had decided to permanently disable the green arrow.
“So, now when Route 6 is stopped, Route 6N is stopped, too,” he said. “I asked her why they were taking that action and she said they realized there was something in the New York State code book that wouldn’t allow it.”
Schmitt said the DOT rep told him that cars heading in the opposite direction on Route 6 looking to turn left at the light to 6N, or into the Tompkins Mahopac Bank or Gulf gas station would be in danger and could create liability issues for the DOT.
“They thought it was a practice they shouldn’t permit,” Schmitt said. “I tried to articulate to them why it was a poor decision, but they didn’t like it. For the past 50 years there has been a green arrow and when someone was in the crosswalk it would turn red.”
Schmitt said that while the DOT appreciated the feedback, the agency remained unmoved by his argument.
“I said I don’t agree with it,” he said. “I told them they are going to cause us more traffic issues; they created a new problem for us. We just wanted them to fix the crosswalk button. We didn’t ask them to deactivate the green arrow.”
Schmitt said he asked the DOT rep if the department planned to monitor the intersection to observe the results of turning off the arrow, but she said they weren’t required to do that.
Schmitt, after getting nowhere with the DOT rep, said he went over her head to the DOT Region 8 engineer, Lance McMillan, but McMillan never returned his calls. Instead, he received a call from Adam Levine, a traffic engineer who said he would send DOT reps back out to the location.
Schmitt said that he and Police Chief Mike Cazzari then met with regional engineer Mike Sassy, and Lee Zimmer, the DOT’s regional signal and permit manager.
“It didn’t go well,” he said of the meeting. “We were there for an hour and a half and saw the traffic. They saw the problem, but were unmoved by it; they didn’t want to hear it. We laid out our argument; expressed our concerns. They listened and said they would get back to us, but they haven’t gotten back to me.”
Schmitt said since the arrow was turned off nearly a month ago, he’s received many phone calls and visitors to Town Hall expressing concern. He also said employees inside the bank reported the constant sound of tires squealing as motorists suddenly realized they had to stop.
“I have walk-ins, people coming here asking why that arrow is no longer functioning,” he said. “[DOT] gave us no notice. They said they are trying to reduce their liability, but this wasn’t well thought out. They didn’t consider the cause and effect and they made it worse.”
Councilwoman Suzi McDonough agreed.
“We are not in favor of it and they did it without us knowing about it,” she said. “In our eyes, it is a hazard and they made it unsafe. We have to petition them; we have to get the green arrow back. Now traffic backs up all the way to the library and it’s caused an unsafe situation. I want the Town Board to send a letter stating our opposition.”
Cazzari said that he researched traffic data at the light and surprisingly discovered that there have been no accidents reported at the intersection since the green arrow was disabled; however, during the same period last year, there were two accidents.
A statement released Tuesday morning (July 24) by Gina M. DiSarro, public information officer for the DOT, said, “The traffic signal function was altered to enhance safety for motorists and pedestrians at this intersection. We are planning a full review of the intersection with town officials in the very near future.