Fulton and Montgomery Counties, NY: Does a bypass to the Johnstown Industrial Park already exist? Only a regional approach can answer this question.

Fonda and Fultonville, NY are two very small villages along the New York State Barge Canal (formerly the Erie Canal) in Montgomery County in East Central New York. Recently, the neighboring county to the north, Fulton County, had a study prepared that attempted to identify alternate routes that could carry tractor trailers from Thruway Exit 28 in Fultonville to its 200-acre Johnstown Industrial Park five miles away and alleviate traffic and infrastructure challenges in the two villages.

Fonda and Fultonville were, in many ways, born of transportation and commerce. As a significant stop on the Erie Canal, all manner of goods passed through the villages. Products from agricultural concerns and local manufacturing centers were often loaded in the villages and subsequently transported to far away markets in New York, Rochester, or the Midwest. With the advent of the railroads and then the Thruway in the 1950’s, the villages’ shared identity as a transportation hub was confirmed and re-confirmed.

However, the economic decline of upstate manufacturing during the malaise of the 1960s – 1980s left the two villages to their sleepy little selves. Little was done to significantly upgrade the infrastructure and the communities were content with being home to workers that commuted to nearby workplaces in Amsterdam, Johnstown, and Gloversville; as well as the larger centers of Schenectady, Albany, and Utica. The traffic generated by this kind of activity is generally comprised primarily of personal autos, minivans, and pickup trucks.

The introduction of “big box” stores and their associated just-in-time fulfillment strategies in the 1980s and 1990s required more trucks to transport those goods. It also gave rise to additional warehouses — very large facilities serviced by significantly more tractor trailers. Because of the relative closeness of our communities to population centers in Albany and Schenectady and the availability of superior highway transportation in the NYS Thruway, U.S. Route 20, and I-88, it is not surprising that facilities were built in nearby Johnstown, Gloversville, Florida, and Sharon Springs.

The localities in which these facilities were located, and localities along the routes to available superhighways saw a significant increase in truck traffic over a relatively short time frame. Fonda and Fultonville are approximately 5 miles from the Johnstown Industrial Park and 15 miles from Route 20.   In addition, Route 30A provides a convenient “shortcut” between I-88 and the Thruway for those wishing to avoid the junction at Schenectady.

Fulton County has suggested a series of alternatives for more robust roadways that consider a limited solution set. All of their alternatives start at Exit 28 and end at the Johnstown Industrial Park. The majority of their alternatives in the study still require truck traffic to pass through parts of Fonda and Fultonville that also host significant pedestrian, school bus, and local traffic. Further, current routes (and some of those proposed) often pass through tight intersections, requiring trucks to take wide turns sometimes forcing other drivers to put their cars in reverse just to allow the trucks to make the turn. The infrastructure of the Villages of Fonda and Fultonville are woefully inadequate to support the huge increase in truck traffic that we have seen in the last 10 – 20 years.

Fulton County recognized these issues and funded engineering to consider an alternate route. Fulton County had offered to share the cost and administration of the study with Montgomery County, but Montgomery decided against the study. Perhaps that contributed to the myopic scope of the study, but Fulton County deserves credit for at least exploring alternatives.

It seems to me, however, that a more regional review is more sensible. A map of the area (https://www.google.com/maps/@42.9679124,-74.3171068,12z), shows the East-West corridor along the Thruway for most of Montgomery and Fulton Counties. A fault of the Fulton County study was that no consideration was given to leveraging other Thruway exits. The third leg of the area’s industrial legacy, lies to the east, in Amsterdam, NY, and bears review as another gateway to the industrial park.

Amsterdam’s Exit 27 is well-serviced by NY Route 30, a four-lane highway crossing the Mohawk River. Amsterdam’s infrastructure was designed with transporting manufacturing products in mind. The route from Exit 27 to Johnstown’s Industrial Park could follow several alternatives. One leading possibility is to follow Route 5 west to Stoner’s Trail Road to Route 67.

Much of Route 5 from Route 30 to Tribes Hill is four lane divided highway, suitable for truck traffic. Route 5 between West Main and the Amtrak station is overdue for an overhaul. Stoner’s Trail from Tribe’s Hill to just east of Johnstown is a wonderfully straight road, with wide shoulders, few turns and ample room for expansion for nearly its entire length. I am at a loss to explain why it is not more heavily utilized. Improvements could be made to the intersections with Route 5 and Route 67 at each end without significant impact to nearby residences. Impact to residences is a major concern for many of the alternatives suggested by Fulton County.

I have put this solution forward primarily to demonstrate that a regional approach is required to address the coming needs of our area. I recognize that this would not address traffic sourced from the west of the area, but it could address a significant part of the volume. The Exit 28-centric approach put forward by Fulton County as well as the short-sightedness of Montgomery County’s refusal to participate in such a study flatly failed the area’s residents and businesses.

I am sure that clever people could suggest other alternatives in addition to the Stoner’s Trail route. I am also sure that, without a regional approach, Fonda and Fultonville will continue to suffer infrastructure failures and degradation from regional growth. Let’s get smart and take a wider view for solutions to our challenges.

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