Weekly Feature

2017-11-08 / Front Page

Salt and County roads intersection presents major safety hazard, say residents


About a dozen residents and local government officials gathered in a conference room at Town Hall on the morning of Nov. 3, looking upward at a projector showing a Google Maps image of 10759 County Road.

Residents say that this intersection, in which Salt meets County Road, poses more than the risk of a possible fender-bender — it’s one that has potentially fatal consequences if something is not done to slow traffic as it goes through.

From the town line that separates Clarence from Newstead on County Road, the speed limit is 50 mph. As drivers progress west from Newstead, residents say, they begin to speed as County Road turns into Hunts Corners

Road, noting that when they get to the intersection, they cannot stop in time to avoid drivers approaching from Salt when they finally become visible.

Currently, a small flashing red light, as well as stop signs at the Salt intersection entrances, are supposed to prevent drivers from rolling through the intersection without caution. But residents firmly believe that the signage offers little in the way of deterrence, particularly when brush begins to grow at the corners and can obfuscate the signs.

At Friday morning’s meeting, residents pleaded with local officials that included Town Supervisor Pat Casilio, Town Board Member Bob Geiger, Highway Superintendent Jamie Dussing and Erie County Legislator Ed Rath to lower the speed limit on County to 45 mph and to implement a four-way stop or a traffic light.

John Wideman, assistant chief of the Newstead Fire Department and a transportation supervisor for the Clarence Central School District, recounted his personal experiences driving through the intersection.

“I’ve had several near-misses, from cars pulling out in front of me, to people not stopping at all,” he said. “My wife has as well, and I’ve had several reports from school bus drivers.”

Casilio told those in attendance at the meeting that a motion will be presented during the Town Board’s Nov. 15 meeting, calling for a traffic study to be conducted at the intersection. According to Gina Wilkolaski, traffic safety engineer for Erie County, the county must collect a traffic count before any changes can be made to signage.

The county must then analyze the collected data in an effort to see whether there have been five “preventable” accidents that have occurred through a 12-month period. The data collection and analysis could take six weeks, she said.

Within the last year, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office has responded to three crashes at the intersection and eight crashes through the last four years, according to Scott Zylka, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office.

For Dave and Karen Van Houtte, who moved four years ago to their home on Salt Road near the intersection, those numbers seem deflated and inconsistent with their own experiences living near the accident prone area. The couple say they have seen just about every type of car crash occur at the intersection, including those resulting in rollovers and injuries. In some cases, they’ve had to intervene in the road to prevent angry drivers from physically attacking one another.

Last summer, for example, Karen says she went outside to find a rollover had taken place when a driver proceeded through the intersection without coming to a complete stop.

“She [the driver] thought somebody had to stop on the other side. The van she hit flipped and skidded down the road. It was a mother and a teenage boy,” she said. “She [the mother] got out of the car and she went after the girl.”

The Van Houttes say that within six months of living on Salt Road, they knew that the intersection presented a fatally consequential problem. They estimate that they’ve gone out to assist after accidents anywhere from 10 to 15 times.

“You hear that noise and you can’t mistake it. It’s crazy, the stuff we have seen and heard,” said Dave. “There are times we’ve been standing out in the middle of the road trying to direct traffic, because cars don’t slow down. But it’s human nature to want to help people.”

For Hans Mobius, who owns Maple Row Farm at 6879 Salt Road, the intersection is as dangerous now as it ever has been, despite attempts by the town to mitigate the problem.

“We brought this problem to the town a while back, and the speed limit was changed to 50 from 55 [mph]. It didn’t really help,” he said. “The point we made was that Sheridan Drive, Route 5 and Transit Road are all 45 [mph]. Why is it that this one road in Clarence has a 55 speed limit?”

Mobius handed out an information packet to town officials last week that included a letter from resident Gregory Schmidt, who has lived at the corner of Salt and County roads for 30 years. Schmidt wrote in the letter that in 2007, he had recorded 120 accidents since 1987 that occurred at the intersection.

One in particular changed Schmidt’s life forever when he rushed out to the scene of an accident to find a car that had been completely crushed. He could just make out the figure of a young boy beneath the floor of the back seat, his baseball cap lying on the ground.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to prevent from happening,” said Karen Van Houtte. “There’s going to be a life lost. We’re running on borrowed time.”

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