Town Board gesture right, but may prove futile

IT MAY PROVE TO be something akin to spitting in the wind, but the Plymouth Town Board deserves credit for heeding the wishes of their constituents last week.

The board was asked to add its support to the latest plan from the state Department of Transportation for the eventual upgrading of State 23 to freeway status between State 57 and State 67.

That would mean closing off completely all existing intersections along State 23 between the other two state highways, at Pleasantview Road, County E (Highland Avenue) and County OJ (Fairview Drive).

Such an eventuality has been in the plans for more than two decades and the DOT, the county, the town and the city signed an agreement for such an upgrade back in 1996 that included a frontage road between State 57 and State 67 that would follow a route south of State 23.

It’s that last provision that has become the sticking point. It was the cause of the Town Board defying the DOT’s latest proposal and calling for the state to stick to the original 1996 agreement.

The DOT is turning its back on that 1996 agreement, saying that a southern route for the frontage road would be too expensive, as it will mean construction of a new bridge over the Mullet River. The bridge, the DOT says, also raises concerns about negative environmental impacts that could block its construction as well.

Instead, the DOT’s latest concept calls for a southern frontage road as far west as Fairview Drive (County OJ). From there, non-freeway eastwest traffic would be routed north along County OJ to a new road that would be an extension to the east of the existing Terrace Drive in the River Heights subdivision.

That traffic would then use Terrace Drive and River Heights Drive to get to State 67, with a possible roundabout intersection at State 67.

Understandably, that concept drew vehement opposition from residents of the subdivision at a public information meeting held last fall. And those voices were still ringing in the ears of their Town Board supervisors last week.

The roads in the subdivision were not designed or built for the volume of traffic that could come with a frontage road and, even if they are upgraded to that level, that kind of traffic through a residential neighborhood would obviously be disruptive and potentially dangerous. Construction of a roundabout at the River Heights Drive/State 67 could mean the removal of several existing houses as well.

Granted, any change to the status of State 23 between State 57 and State 67 will not take place for some time – perhaps several decades – and we’ve seen all too well how such plans can change, time and again, over that long a period. Who knows, in a few more years there could be a proposal to make County J the frontage road.

But the DOT is ready to begin the first preliminary surveying and measuring for the eventual freeway upgrade now, and is looking for support for its plans.

The Plymouth City Council already voted its support, reluctantly, but the Town Board wasn’t ready to go along.

That action may prove to be a case of tilting at windmills, but at least the DOT and state officials are on notice that their plans are not being warmly embraced by all. Perhaps it might give them some pause or at least make them rethink their plans.

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