A desire to ease traffic congestion in Colonie has brought together municipalities and legislators from both sides of the political aisle
Two county legislators representing areas in the Town of Colonie have crossed party lines and are working together to address residential concerns about the pace of development in the town and, more specifically, increased traffic congestion along certain corridors.
Joe O’Brien (D-25) and Paul Burgdorf (R-23) have been working to implement a traffic study of Shaker, Old Niskayuna, Osborne and Maxwell roads to be used in the development of the town’s new comprehensive plan, the updating of which has just gotten underway. While there have been other traffic studies proposed, O’Brien and Burgdorf feel that theirs—which will be conducted in conjunction with the town, the office of the county executive, the county legislature and the Capital District Transportation Committee—is the most comprehensive and the least likely to fall prey to manipulation by special interests.
“You can always question people’s motives,” said Burgdorf. “When you have a traffic study that is put forward by the developer, they are trying to accomplish a certain goal. We had the airport do a study, but they are interested in protecting the airport and I think this partnership between the Town of Colonie and Albany County and CDTC, who are generally recognized as being the premiere apolitical traffic organization in the region, that is going to add a sense of credibility to whatever the findings are about development, traffic and its impact on neighborhoods and their residents.”
O’Brien said that he became concerned about the pace of development and its impact on traffic last year when a proposed development on Shaker Road was planning to increase population density by more than 200 percent. “They wanted to increase the density of homes in that area—I think it was 28 or 30 homes to 80—and, as a result, would have impacted not only the area but also the infrastructure. The fire protection and emergency vehicles couldn’t have gotten down certain roads because they were too narrow.”
“And the developer tried to lead people to believe that they wouldn’t generate that much traffic because these 80 luxury townhomes are supposed to be for people 55 and older,” added Burgdorf. “Well, my wife and I are both over 55 and we’re in and out of our house 20 times a day, our kids are constantly over and we have three cars. Nobody believes that there wouldn’t be an increase in traffic, and so why would you give increased density to a project in an area where the traffic is already booming?”
“18,000 cars per day,” said O’Brien. “That’s the last number I was given by the county; that’s the number of cars that use Albany Shaker Road every day.” Agreeing with a statement Mahan made, calling Colonie a “crossroads,” O’Brien said, “It is a focal point, but let’s be smart. Let’s not make the same mistakes we made in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s; let’s learn from them before going forward.”
Criticizing a development project that has been approved for Maxwell Road—another senior living development project that will build 55 luxury townhouses in an area zoned for closer to 20 homes, which neither legislator believes will generate the same amount of traffic—Burgdorf said, “Paula [Mahan], at the opening meeting of the comprehensive planning process, said that we are a crossroads and a desirable place to develop and I agree with her. But, because we’re so desirable, we can be smart. We can pick and choose the best development for Colonie, the smartest development, the most revenue with the least impact. I think we have a primary responsibility to protect our existing neighborhoods from overdevelopment and traffic, but I also agree that everyone should have the opportunity to develop their property.”
“It’s a delicate balance,” agreed O’Brien.
The issue with much of the development, said Burgdorf, is where it’s happening. In the area where the legislators want to focus the traffic study, roads are only two lanes and to widen them, according to O’Brien, would be cost-prohibitive.
“Take a look at Shaker Road,” said Burgdorf. “When they put the sidewalks in, they had to turn the mailboxes sideways because there wasn’t enough room for them. They literally expanded the road, to the inch, as far as they could.” In many cases, according to the legislators, expansion would require the use of eminent domain and, in some cases, require the relocation of homeowners altogether.
Both O’Brien and Burgdorf expressed confidence in the comprehensive planning committee, whose members were announced in late May, even though they both would have liked to see more citizen members representing neighborhoods that are most affected by ongoing development.
“I think the town, in recent days, has been playing a little bit of defense,” said Burgdorf. “I don’t think they really understood the feelings of the neighborhoods and the voters when it came to development practices. I think they’ve realized now that there are some significant concerns about the environment and traffic and I think they’re genuinely responsive and trying to conduct a balancing act.”
“We have to work together for the common good,” said O’Brien, “because we all live in this town.” Both men extolled the virtues of bipartisanship and said that they believe that’s what their constituents would like to see more of at every level of government. “We’re trying to do that at the local level,” said O’Brien. “And we think that’s what’s best for the people and the town we represent.”
“I have a lot of democratic and independent friends and neighbors,” said Burgdorf, “who expect me to work with everybody. It’s a question of ‘how do we get things done?’ Joe and I have become friends and allies.” Burgdorf mentioned several other reform-minded legislators from both sides of the aisle who have worked together to try to change the often-dysfunctional political climate in local government.
The traffic study is expected to be completed some time in the next year, said both men. At their monthly meeting on Monday, July 11, the county legislature passed a resolution committing to the partnership and now Burgdorf and O’Brien are waiting to hear that the town has agreed to the boundaries and cost of the study, which is estimated at around $80,000. Neither said that they anticipated any obstacles.
One thing that they said they do hope to see happen immediately as a result of the study is the alleviation of traffic congestion on Shaker Road near The Crossings park, where the lack of a left turn lane causes traffic to back up anytime someone wants to take a left into the park—particularly around rush hour. As the Town of Colonie moves ahead with the revision of the town’s comprehensive plan, both men feel that’s an issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Joe LaCivita, the director of the town’s Department of Planning and Economic Development has indicated that, as the planning process moves forward, residents will be able to monitor progress, learn information and offer input on a website that is expected to be operational by the end of July. Additionally, a series of public meetings will be held.