HUDSON — The state Department of Transportation plans to turn the intersection of Route 23 and Route 9G into a traffic circle, built for the convenience of tourists, by December.
The department held a public information meeting Thursday night at Columbia-Greene Community College to discuss the department’s plans with residents to completely change the intersection on the Columbia County side of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge approach.
The state plans to turn the intersection into a pedestrian-friendly roundabout.
The changes include sidewalks on both sides of Route 23, one connecting the east end of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to the Olana State Historic Site in Greenport, crosswalks and a small parking lot next to the road for bikers and tourists to access the bridge and Olana.
“We are working on an aggressive schedule, but it is doable,” Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Bryan Viggiani said. “We aren’t breaking new ground and projects like this can usually get done fairly quick.”
The transportation department plans to finish designing the project in April with construction starting in August and going until December.
Plans for how to redirect traffic have not been finalized, Viggiani said, but the plan is to keep the existing outermost stretches of road — the outside triangle — open and closing inside roads where construction will take place.
The planned traffic circle will be a one-lane roundabout with cars being forced to enter it to go either way — something that concerned Germantown residents Rita and Carrigan Buhler.
“We have some concerns about traffic flow with the amount of traffic that runs through that intersection in the morning, evening and lunch time,” Rita said. “It would have been better if it was a double round or if you could go around it. The traffic is going to be backed up to [the Stewart’s on Route 23B].”
Rita, her husband and Carrigan all use the intersection several times a day, they said.
Rita also expressed concerns for pedestrians who will be able to use the planned new crosswalks.
“I think it will be dangerous for people crossing from Olana,” she said. “There should be an overpass for pedestrians.”
The plans include signs to warn drivers to slow down before they reach the roundabout, Viggiani said, with speed limits to be determined after the project is complete.
“Generally, speed limits for roundabouts are 15 mph,” Viggiani said.
“There’s not enough people who use the bridge for this to be necessary,” Carrigan said. “And the timeline is really quick.”
The state contacted several local officials and stakeholders, who gave their approval to the project, including officials from Olana and the Thomas Cole historic sites, Greene County Legislature Chairman Kevin Lewis, Catskill Village President Vincent Seeley, Greenport Town Supervisor Kathleen Eldridge, state Sen. George Amedore Jr., R-46, and Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106.
Supporters all raved about the project’s potential to increase tourism to the area.
“It looks pretty good,” Hudson 3rd Ward Supervisor Michael Chameides said. “The current intersection is pretty tricky some times. I like the parking area. I often see people parking by the bridge; this is better than parking in a random spot.”
The project is an attempt to increase tourist traffic to the Olana historic site in Greenport and the Thomas Cole state historic site in Catskill, with the state including it as part of its Hudson River Skywalk project.
The Skywalk project is renovating the sidewalk on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to make the scenery more visible for tourists walking across the bridge to go to either of the historic sites — including three scenic viewpoints, each 50 feet long by 10 feet wide. That part of the project cost $5.4 million.
Converting the intersection of Route 23 and Route 9G, which is being paid for by the state, will cost $8 million.
The entire project, including efforts to market to tourists, will cost $14.6 million.
“The Hudson River Skywalk proudly puts on display the majesty of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “This project is a perfect example of a successful public-private partnership between state and local partners promoting a unique part of New York state history and creating a timeless experience for generations to come.”