By Lauren Zaepfel
The Wheatfield Town Board agreed Monday night to submit a request to the New York State Department of Transportation to conduct traffic studies on both Shawnee and River roads, after hearing concerns from residents that their speed limits were too high.
This request comes after the fatal crash on Shawnee Road that occurred last month, where two teenagers were struck and killed by a vehicle while walking down the road at night.
Resident Jason Gielow, who lives off Shawnee Road, asked the board to recommend to the DOT that the speed limit on Shawnee Road be reduced, particularly on the busier part that stretches from Niagara Falls Boulevard to Wildwing Drive.
"I feel 45 at most would be safe," Gielow said. "During rush hour, you cannot pull out of these cul-de-sacs onto Shawnee Road. ... The fatalities will continue to happen."
The speed limit on Shawnee by Gielow's residence is 50 miles per hour. Down the road, it increases in areas to 55 miles per hour.
"I have three daughters that will be driving," Gielow said. "One of them will be driving in two years from now. I'm worried about her getting onto Shawnee Road to go to Starpoint High School."
About a year ago, Gielow said he wrote a letter to New York State Sen. Robert G. Ortt, Assemblyman John D. Ceretto and Niagara County Legislator Kathryn L. Lance putting them on notice that the speed limit was dangerously high and fatalities were bound to happen.
He heard back only from Ceretto, who wrote a letter to the DOT. Gielow said, after the DOT conducted a study on Shawnee Road, they responded by saying the traffic flowed at 55 miles per hour, therefore there is no need to slow it down.
On Aug. 25, Ortt wrote a letter to DOT Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll, requesting both the road's speed limit and lack of restrictions on parking along both lanes be reviewed.
"If there are any measures that we can take to protect motorists and pedestrians, we must pursue them in an expedited matter," Ortt wrote. "Whether they are administratively through DOT, or legislatively through my office, I believe we owe it to New Yorkers to ensure safety on and alongside our roads."
Cliffe recently met with members of the DOT after the fatal crash on Shawnee took place, as well.
"They have done the studies over and over again in that area, and their claim is that if ... 85 percent of the traffic ... is riding at or below a given number, that's what they set it at, and that's why Shawnee is still 55," Cliffe said. "Every road has a natural speed and it's set by the people that drive. And they have studied Shawnee recently."
Gielow also requested a turning lane be put in on Shawnee Road.
However, Gielow said, he knows the board members' hands are tied, because it is a state road. But, he still asked them to submit a request, "so that, in two years, my daughters aren't the ones dealing with fatality or killing somebody else and then having to live with that tragedy."
Resident John Cunningham urged the board to include the review of the entire stretch of River Road within town lines in its request, as well. Fatalities have occurred there in the past.
Councilman Larry L. Helwig said a traffic study was done by the DOT on River Road a few years ago. Yet, the speed limit for River Road in Wheatfield remained 45 miles per hour.
"They slowed down the traffic in North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls, but left Wheatfield at 45 miles per hour," Cliffe said.
In other news
•The board voted in favor of consolidating (in town code) both the Federal Aviation Administration's and the town's current zoning regulations regarding commercial development structures near the airport.
•The board unanimously approved another change in code, allowing farming on town land zoned rural-residential. The change was initially recommended to the board by the Town Task Force's agricultural focus group. Most of the R-R districts in the town border agricultural-residential zoned land and are already home to farms that have been grandfathered down. The R-R districts are mostly located along the east and northeast borders of the town.
•The town entered into agreement with Modern Disposal Services to extend the current municipal solid waste collection, hauling and disposal and recycling agreement for a final two years. The agreement was originally made Jan. 1, 2012.
The company did not increase the cost of its disposal services. However, it will no longer provide the town with a $30,000 recycling rebate due to a drop in the value of the items. All current services offered will remain, including scrap tire disposal and rollout services.
•The board authorized the Highway Department to remove the curbed median at the entrance to Spice Creek at Shawnee Road. The department will then pave over the area of the road where the median is located.
"There's some damage (that was) done to the median and it either needs to be refurbished or needs to be torn out," Cliffe said. He noted the damage was caused by an accident years ago.
"The people in the area took it upon themselves to walk around and get 188 signatures from people in the Spice Creek area and, according to the people I talked to, there were only four persons that said, 'No,' they didn't want to have it taken out," Cliffe said.
•The board agreed to enter into a three-year contract with the Sanborn-Pekin Free Library for library services to town residents beginning Jan. 1, 2017. The town will pay the library $26,500 in 2017, $27,825 in 2018 and $29,216 in 2019.
•Recreation Director Mike Ranalli announced the Town of Wheatfield's annual Children's Halloween Party will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Youth Center, 2795 Church Road.