Three years after Selkirk residents got a visit from then-Bethlehem Supervisor Sam Messina, many of the same issues were the subjects of a recent community forum held by Supervisor John Clarkson.
The first meeting in what is to be a series of community forums was held on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at Selkirk Fire Station No. 1 on Maple Avenue. The event was standing room only, with about 50 people in attendance.
Town officials and staff members took questions from the crowd before presenting the progress of various projects that have stalled in the area. Topics ranged from the installation and repair of sidewalks, creation of the Clapper Road/Thruway Interchange Concept Plan or “the Selkirk Bypass project” and what can be done about abandoned buildings in the area.
Monica King, an engineer with the town, gave a presentation on sidewalk installation along Maple Avenue. The project was initiated in 2005 and the first two phases are completed, but the third phase remains stalled due to lack of funds.
King said a major hurdle is building a railroad crossing to linkthe sidewalk. Not having the crossing would mean liability issues for the town. The estimated cost for the crossing was $1 million in 2007. Today, the cost of the crossing and sidewalk installation is about $750,000, but that is still considered to be too costly for the town.
“For the town, without receiving any additional aid, that’s a very hard number to hit,” said Clarkson. King said state and federal grants for sidewalks are extremely limited.
Residents asked if CSX could help pay for the project, but a definitive answer was never given. Company officials said they would work with both the town and the Department of Transportation to plead the need for the crossing.
Some residents said they felt projects in Delmar are being placed before those in Selkirk. Clarkson in his recent State of the Town address announced his administration would push ahead plans to improve the Delaware Avenue streetscape in Delmar — including the building of sidewalks — and build sidewalks along Feura Bush Road. Taken together, those initiatives are estimated to cost more than $2.3 million.
“We want and need a sidewalk,” said resident Faith Fuller. “I’ve lived here 30 years and I keep harping on the same thing. I’ve talked to my neighbors and they keep harping on the same thing. Please do something. Put something in the right direction so we know you’re just as concerned about this as we are.”
Resident Mike Rudolph agreed, adding he feels the town is taking the taxes of those in Selkirk, who get nothing in return. He called for deadlines to be set and for town officials to come back and report on the progress being made on the project.
“I’m asking you, Mr. Supervisor, do the job and get it done,” he said.
Clarkson promised to not let the issue drop, but added that does not mean the project would be finished within the next year.
Bethlehem Director of Economic Development and Planning Michael Morelli also gave a short presentation on the Selkirk Bypass. He said the town is looking into the project once again because the government may pull back the $7 million grant the town received several years ago for its creation.
Previous proposals had failed because residents didn’t like the route suggested because it would bring trucks off the main roads and closer to their homes. The plan would also disrupt traffic patterns.
Morelli said they are once again looking for feedback from residents to move the project forward.
Also at the meeting were representatives from CSX Transportation, who addressed concerns from residents that have cropped up since the company’s Selkirk site expanded several years ago.
Maurice O’Connell, vice president of Government Relations for CSX, said the Selkirk site is one of the most important rail hubs for the company, with 70 trains a day passing the area.
“Over the last 10 years, I think we can safely say the railroad has experienced a renaissance,” he said. “There’s a big interest in getting truck traffic off the highways and onto the railroad for a number of reasons. One being we are the most efficient way to move goods on land.”
He said one train removes about 280 trucks off the highway and one ton of freight can be moved 450 miles on one gallon of fuel.
Residents raised concerns ranging from noise, the idling of trains close to homes, the volume of trains entering the yard and increased road traffic as the volume of trucks in the area picking up and dropping off supplies has increased.
O’Connell said a plan is still on the table to create a separate train bypass to allow trains that don’t need to stop to move quickly through the area. Those discussions are ongoing.
As far as noise, O’Connell said it is a state safety regulation for all trains to blown their horns at rail crossings. The town can file with the federal government to have a study performed so the area can become a quiet zone. Officials said the company is working to reduce other noise coming from the yard such as the loading of trains and mechanical work and is also looking to reduce the idling of trains in the area because that also is costly.
Clarkson said he felt the meeting was a success. Additional forums will be scheduled in the near future, with the next targeted for North Bethlehem.