CAIRO — More than eight years after a two-vehicle accident killed a high school student, speed detection signs will be installed on both sides of the entrance to Cairo-Durham Middle and High School.
But Cairo’s representatives on the Greene County Legislature said the state Department of Transportation should have done more.
Greene County lawmakers approved a resolution Monday to advertise for bids on the project. The signs, which will detect but not record or report a driver’s speed, will be funded by a $50,000 grant secured by state Sen. George Amedore Jr., R-46.
Plans to install the speed signs date back to July 2018 when former Cairo-Durham Superintendent Anthony Taibi met with Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, to find a way to make the Route 145 entrance to the school less prone to accidents.
Tague described the speed detection signs as a win in a statement on Tuesday.
“I’m thrilled to see that these signs are going up at the Cairo-Durham high school,” Tague said. “Protecting our children is what should always be on the forefront of our minds regardless of whatever else is going on in the world. Because the students themselves took it upon themselves to ask for these signs, I’m absolutely delighted to see their concerns addressed. This is a win for the school, the students and the county at large.”
The signs have been a long time coming, Amedore said Tuesday.
“Safety issues at this intersection have been a concern for far too long, and I’m glad to see this project moving forward,” Amedore said. “Each day, hundreds of students, faculty and staff of Cairo-Durham High School travel this road, and it’s critically important to make sure proper safety measures are in place. These speed signs will help ensure the safety of students, the staff and the entire community.”
County lawmakers from Cairo wanted DOT to do more, they said at the meeting Monday night.
“This is not the solution we hoped for, but it is a solution,” Legislator Harry Lennon said.
Legislator William B. Lawrence, a retired Cairo-Durham science teacher, agreed.
“The Department of Transportation did not feel there were enough accidents there to warrant a turning lane,” he said.
The speed signs will not resolve the blind spot drivers face when they are looking toward East Durham at the intersection, Lawrence said.
Two serious accidents occurred there in the last eight years — one on Aug. 1, 2011, which resulted in a student fatality, and one on May 3, 2016, which injured a staff member.
In the 2011 accident, 17-year-old Erika A. Cook was a passenger in a car turning left into the school while headed north on Route 145. The vehicle was struck by an SUV traveling south.
Cook was pronounced dead at the scene and the driver, Samantha Pagan, another student, was critically injured. Cook’s death sent shock waves through the Cairo-Durham community.
At the time of the crash, former Cairo-Durham Superintendent Sally Sharkey described Cook as inspirational.
“She was an inspirational girl and dedicated her time to others. She really focused on helping other people,” Sharkey said.
After the accident, DOT reduced the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph and eliminated the passing lane in front of the school.
“The reduction from the 55 mph speed limit to 45 mph has had little impact on the actual speed people are driving,” Taibi said in an August 2018 interview.
In May 2016, former high school principal Nick Fitzgerald was involved in an accident at the intersection. He was taken to Albany Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.
After each accident, the DOT conducted traffic studies to investigate drivers’ speeds.
The 2011 study, when the speed limit was 55 mph, found that 85% of drivers were going 58 mph or less.
A letter from DOT Regional Director Mary Ivey in 2012 stated that between about 27% and 41% of drivers exceeded the 55 mph limit at two survey points during the study. Drivers in the 85th percentile drove at speeds between 57 and 58 mph.
In 2016, after the speed limit was reduced to 45 mph, 85% of drivers were going 55 mph or less, according to the second traffic study.
The DOT generates speeding statistics based on the 85th percentile. The 85th percentile speed is defined as the speed at or below which 85% of all vehicles are observed to travel under free-flowing conditions past a monitored point.
Over the years, the school district’s requests for a traffic light at the intersection have not been heeded.
The DOT considers the following factors when requests for a traffic signal are made: the accident history of the area and whether a light would reduce accidents; whether heavy traffic causes drivers to pull out when it is unsafe; if school children use the area for crossing; whether a large number of pedestrians in the area cause confusion; if the traffic signal relieves congestion and confusion; and whether a light allows cars to maintain a uniform pace and prevents unnecessary stopping.
Average daily vehicular traffic on Route 145 was in the 4,001 to 10,000 range in 2015, according to the DOT traffic data viewer.
The accident rate at this location is lower than the statewide average and does not warrant a traffic light and turning lane, DOT spokesman Bryan Viggiani said in an interview in August 2018. In the 2016 traffic study report, 17 accidents occurred at the intersection in 5 1/2 years, giving an average of 1.86 acc/mvm, or accident rates in the section in accidents per million of vehicles of travel, compared to the statewide average of 2.81 acc/mvm.
“Law enforcement officials were in agreement that the best way to increase safety at this intersection is to increase enforcement of the posted speed limit as well as distracted driving, which they plan to do this coming school year [2018-2019],” Viggiani said at the time.
The speed signs are on track to be installed sometime this spring, Highway and Solid Waste Superintendent Robert Van Valkenburg said Monday.
“Anything we can do to increase the safety for the school and community is welcomed,” Cairo-Durham Superintendent Michael Wetherbee said Tuesday.