STUYVESANT — John Hutchinson’s house on Ferry Road was flooded by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Six years later, his home is being restored through the state’s NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program, which helps fix homes after several hurricanes and storms devastated in the region.
Hutchinson’s home was almost taken by the state through eminent domain 20 years ago after the railroad crossing was deemed too dangerous by the state Department of Transportation and the road was slated to be closed.
The state Department of Transportation relented after much publicity and pressure from residents, Hutchinson said. The department instead spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading the railroad grade crossing, and installing a traffic signal system. The project was coordinated with Amtrak.
Today, Hutchinson’s latest fight is over his mailbox.
The U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday ended mail service to Ferry Road. The reason? The railroad grade crossing, or the place where the railroad meets and crosses the road, was deemed too dangerous for letter carriers to cross, according to the postal service.
As a result, three people on Ferry Road will no longer receive mail service at their homes. Two other properties on the street would also be affected, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson and his neighbors were now given the option of picking up their mail at the post office with a free post office box.
“Given these considerations, the postmaster will attempt to have the boxes moved permanently to either the main road or offer the three households a no-fee post office Box,” according to a statement from the Postal Service.
But no public hearing was held nor were any suggestions made to state Department of Transportation about how to improve the crossing, Hutchinson said.
“It does not seem right that this postmaster can unilaterally suspend our delivery,” Hutchinson said. “Rural postal delivery is a right guaranteed to everyone.”
In Stuyvesant, a new four-way traffic light was installed in July 2017 at intersection of Route 9J and Ferry Road. A motion-sensitive traffic light installed by Amtrak detects a car driving toward the tracks, changing the light to green after a short delay.
Hutchinson has not witnessed an accident at the railroad crossing in his 20 years living on the street, he said.
“While inspecting deliveries, the specialist and postmaster watched a car proceed to the light to observe the timing on the motion-detected light,” according to a statement from the Postal Service. “They observe the slow speed that vehicles use to cross the humps and tracks as the lights change. The [postal] carrier has stated that the timing seems to have changed on the light and feels he doesn’t have enough time to get across safely. Our specialist and postmaster observed this and concur.”
The Postal Service also cited unsafe turnaround as a reason to stop mail service to Ferry Road.
“The road is only a little wider than one car wide. Following recent flooding and construction, there are many trucks and cranes in the area,” according to the Postal Service’s statement. “This blocks the road at times and leaves no access to turn around. The Postal Service does not authorize backing as a safe means of transit.”
The issue calls into question the safety concerns grade crossings present. Railroad grade crossings pose a liability to railway companies. Accidents, injuries and deaths at railroad crossings have decreased dramatically between 2006 and 2015 due to upgrades in safety, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration. Highway-rail deaths dropped from 369 to 237 in that time period, according to the railroad administration’s website.
Hutchinson is taking the fight to the federal level. Town Supervisor Ron Knott is expected to send a letter to U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, about the issue, Hutchinson said. Knott could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
But Hutchinson worries about what effect a dangerous crossing would have on his home’s value.
“Imagine if we decide to sell our home some time in the future, and we have to tell prospective buyers that the United States Government deems our grade crossing too dangerous for its employees,” Hutchinson said.
In the hamlet of Newtown Hook can be found the remains of the largest icehouses built along the Hudson River when it was harvested for ice. Ferry Road got it name because that is where the ferry would run from Stuyvesant to Coxsackie.
But there is a comeback happening in the waterfront hamlet, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson’s house at 41 Ferry Road was once a boarding house, a home for railroad workers. It has been undergoing restoration since the flood. So were his neighbors’ homes. There are plans to renovate the former Central Cafe next to the railroad tracks on Ferry Road.
Hutchinson’s neighbor’s house on Ferry Road, once the site of the Newton Hook Post Office, was recently restored.
“This railroad track has been here longer than these houses,” Hutchinson said. “It has been here since the mid-19th century. There has never been an accident — not a horse or a carriage, a car or a bus or anything.”
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.