Transportation officials got some insight earlier this month on how to keep Orange County moving.
Clifton Patrick and Leslie Smith of Chester were among those who came ready with feedback to the final public workshop of the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan, held at the South Orange Family YMCA.
“We’ve looked at the draft proposal, and we saw a few more issues in it that we think need to be addressed,” Patrick said. “So we’re here to make sure that they’re not forgotten.”
Patrick said that, as Chester residents, they see the effects of Route 17 traffic firsthand.
“Anytime (Route) 17 backs up, Chester goes into gridlock on 17M,” he said. “We stopped at Tina’s Pizza one evening when traffic was all backed up, and we had the place to ourselves. There was nobody there. The locals wouldn’t come because they know traffic’s pretty backed up, and people in traffic are probably afraid to get out of line.”
Turning Route 17M into a boulevard and reducing the number of left-turn opportunities might work to reduce the number of accidents along that roadway, Patrick said.
But the county’s transportation issues aren’t limited to motor vehicle traffic. According to Patrick, many places in Orange County are not very walkable.
“The walk light for pedestrians (across Route 17M) is on for about five seconds, so, even if you’re paying attention, you have to cross five lanes of traffic,” he said. “I’ve seen ladies pushing baby carriages caught in traffic, and some people just won’t wait for them to go, and it’s really scary.”
Tuxedo town board member Michele Lindsay said she came to see what county officials are proposing and that Tuxedo’s concerns can be included in the planning.
“We are trying to encourage economic development and revitalization in our downtown area,” Lindsay said. "But we are hampered by a four-lane highway with 18-wheelers, and we have a major highway as our Main Street. It really kind of reduces what we can do.”
Public feedback much needed
Orange County Planning Department Deputy Commissioner Julie Richmond said the long-range transportation plan is basically a road map for how people get around. Public input a much-needed component of the plan, she said.
She said the well-attended event was off to a surprisingly strong start. Several people walked through presentation easels arranged in a semi-circle. Posters highlighted key elements, and attendees were encouraged to mark up the plan with permanent markers provided for them.
“This is a nice location because it’s busy and there’s stuff going on,” said Richmond, referring to the surrounding blur of activity. “We can get people while they’re here for other things.”
It was a regular night at the Y. As the workshop proceeded in an open second-floor space, people got their steps in on treadmills, and a game of volleyball could be spied below.
Noting the general busyness of people’s lives, Richmond said it was nice to see the public come out.
“It’s 7 o’clock at night, so I’m surprised that people care enough to come out and give their input, and that people have read the plan and took notes to give us input," she said.
Richmond said her department’s staff, and the Orange County Transportation Council, are responsible for making long-term decisions that affect travel throughout the county.
The previous two workshops seeking public feedback were sparsely attended, she said, although the department did see a better response with online surveys.
A virtual survey for those unable to attend can be found at http://sgiz.mobi/s3/71c9021e4e53.
The draft 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan can be found at orangecountygov.com/DocumentCenter/View/14469/OCTC-Draft-Long-Range-Transportation-Plan-2045-for-Public-Review.
Public comment on the draft began Oct. 18 and closed Nov. 16.
Comments may be submitted by emailing OCTC@orangecountygov.com or by calling 845-615-3840.