Is this the most dangerous intersection in North Salem?

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Exiting the interstate at exit 8, Hardscrabble Road. Filling up at the new Mobil Station on Fields Lane. Traveling to Joe Bohrdrum Field Park for a sports practice. These are all common trips for North Salem residents, but for many locals, those excursions have become fraught with risk.

In October, three separate traffic accidents were recorded at the area around exit 8 in North Salem. The accidents highlight the friction between a town determined to maintain its rural character and the realities of new traffic patterns in the area.

North Salem, with a population of 5,300 residents, has long prided itself on its rural charm. On roadways, that manifests itself through minimal stop signs and lights and a number of unpainted and even unpaved gravel roads. “I think the majority of town likes the more rural looking road,” said North Salem Police Chief Thomas Howley. However, Howley acknowledged that despite a small population, thousands more people travel through North Salem on a daily basis. A significant number of these drivers are commuting between New York and Connecticut or skirting traffic-related backups on Interstate 684 using navigation apps. “Ever since the advent of GPS, North Salem is on the map,” Howley said.

Now, with the pandemic receding, more drivers are returning to area roadways and traveling throughout the day rather than just during typical “rush hour” periods due to increased remote work . These factors are likely compounding traffic congestion. Highway Superintendent Ward Hanaburgh likened new traffic patterns to driving conditions in early winter. “When people start to drive in the winter, they forget how to drive in the snow, and we have more issues,” he said.

At Hardscrabble Road and Fields Lane, a new Mobil Station created even more new traffic patterns. Drivers turn left onto Fields Lane off of exit 8 to access the gas station while departing customers attempt to make the turn onto busy Hardscrabble Road. Town Supervisor Warren Lucas said, “it’s a little bit of an issue pulling in and out of Fields Lane. It probably makes sense to mark it up a little bit better.” Lucas added that the town would be paving Fields Lane this fall, including adding lines where the road meets Hardscrabble Road.

Town officials explained that Fields Lane, which is a town road, is the only roadway in that area for which they have control. Hardscrabble Road is a county road, which means that any changes to that road must come from the New York State Department of Transportation.

Heather Pillsworth, Public Information Officer for the New York State Department of Transportation, Hudson Valley Region, told The North Salem Post that, “at the request of the Town of North Salem, the New York State Department of Transportation has initiated a traffic study in the area of the Interstate 684 ramps at Hardscrabble Road.” Traffic studies must be completed before traffic management measures such as stop signs or lights can be implemented at an intersection. The studies consider field reviews, most recent three-year crash history, and decide appropriate actions if warranted, Pillsworth explained.

Lucas said that he is in regular communication with officials in the DOT, and stressed that making changes to existing traffic patterns can take years. “The state DOT controls everything,” he said. “To get the 4-way stop sign at Route 116 and June Road took several years. The DOT’s interest is to move traffic. They don’t have a lot of interest in stopping traffic unless you have a lot of accidents.”

The idea that implementing traffic safety measures is contingent upon accidents is distressing to locals who have experienced frightening near-misses--or worse--at that intersection. Somers resident Lynn Zoubok and her twin high school juniors travel Hardscrabble Road daily between their home in Somers’ Greenbriar neighborhood and North Salem High School. Last month, Zoubok was shaken to learn that her daughter’s friend and her mother were almost severely injured in an accident at Fields Lane and Hardscrabble Road. “They’re lucky that it wasn’t a worse accident than it was. It just really struck me,” Zoubok said.

Despite the recent accidents, town officials stopped short of saying they believed that the I-684-Hardscrabble Road area posed a safety risk to the community. “I think it’s like any other intersection, it poses some risk,”Hanaburgh said. Howley declined to characterize the risk level in the absence of a completed traffic management study. Lucas said that conversations are ongoing. “On Hardscrabble, I expect to be talking to [the DOT] about it. We have not stopped. To get them to put some of these devices in, it just takes a long time. It's something that has to be put it in a plan someplace so they actually get the funding for it.”

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