The winter months are fast approaching with all of their roadway dangers — snow, slush, black ice and generally unsafe driving conditions.
In the town of Elizabethtown, especially at the end of Lincoln Pond Road, the elements have always made for a challenging commute into the county seat. Now, that commute will be made a little more challenging.
The New York State Department of Transportation announced this week that the bridge at the base of the intersection of Lincoln Pond Road and Route 9N will be bottle-necked to one lane, watched over by a three way traffic signal system.
The lights will be placed at an intersection that, in the best of conditions, is one of the trickiest in Essex County. On the one side, you have a sharp slope coming down from Lincoln Pond Road, with several sharp and winding curves with varying elevations, making it hard to see if there is a car stopped in front of you until you are almost on top of it.
On the other side, you have a pair of severely sharp turns coming in from Westport and I-87, again allowing for limited visibility even if drivers are operating their vehicles at a safe speed.
The intersection is one of the busiest in the county. Many of the county’s 500 employees come from towns like Westport, Moriah, Crown Point and Ticonderoga, using the two roads as their way into and from work. Anyone that has driven into Elizabethtown between 7:30 and 7:50 a.m. knows how long the wait currently is at the blinking light at the intersection of 9 and 9N. Now, the wait will be compounded at the new lights, where cars from three different directions will have to wait their turn.
With all of this, the key words for drivers are going to have to be patience and safety. Drivers are going to have to have patience with each other and with the lights, which will be programmed based on traffic patterns throughout the day. Drivers are also going to have to make sure that they mind their speed and keep their eyes on the road ahead of them. While everyone who drives into Elizabethtown knows the patterns and what to expect, all of those patterns are now going to change and every driver must exercise caution to make sure they keep everyone else safe. This means slow down, keep you eyes off your phone or mirror, and be mindful of the weather conditions.
For the DOT, they are going to have to take every precaution to make sure the intersection is safe. After all, one of the reasons there is not a full traffic light in Elizabethtown is because of the downhill grade coming from the county government center. At this new light, you will now have two downhill grades that are more acute funneling into the same junction. Reduced speed limits will need to be posted well ahead of the intersections along with signage and mobile billboards alerting drivers to the changes. These signs are going to have to stick around for a while, too, because once everyone gets used to the changes, it will be summer and all the summer traffic will return without a knowledge of the new traffic pattern.
The fact of the matter is that the bridge has been red flagged by the DOT and has to be replaced because it has gotten to the point it can no longer withstand a proper traffic load. Given the importance of the intersection to central Essex County as well as the government center, we would hope that the Board of Supervisors would ask for a more expeditious ending to this matter. In Wadhams, bridge replacement work began in early spring this year and just recently concluded. While that was an inconvenience to many, it was not the main lifeline for a majority of workers in the region. It was also not the only way to get from one major town to another, as motorists could use the Lake Shore Road from Westport or County Route 12 from Elizabethtown to reach the towns of Essex and Willsboro in near identical times to traveling through Wadhams. In this case, commuters would have to commute through Westport, thus increasing traffic on their roads, and use one of several alternative routes in order to avoid the potential congestion or safety issues.
We trust that the DOT and whoever is contracted to do the work on the bridge will do an outstanding job that will benefit the residents of the county for years to come, but while we stress patience for motorists when it comes to this latest North Country roadway inconvenience, we also must ask, can’t you speed it up a little?
After all, it took just 18 months to replace the 2,200-foot span over Lake Champlain in Crown Point. You could easily throw a paperweight underhand in a brisk headwind the full length of the small bridge over the Boquet here in Elizabethtown. It would seem that it could be replaced in less than a year.