Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Tyranny of Trucks

On Thursday night, the Economic Development Committee of the Common Council took up the issue of trucks. Trucks are an intrusive presence on the streets of Hudson, and dealing with them--even discussing them--can become a very complicated thing. There are two state truck routes that pass through Hudson: Route 9, at the east end of town, and Route 9G, toward the western end.

Route 9 enters Hudson from the south on Worth Avenue, makes a left onto Warren Street to Park Place, makes a right onto Park Place, goes one block to Columbia Street, then makes a right onto Columbia, curves to the left onto Green Street, continues on to Fairview Avenue, where it makes a left turn and continues north. Route 9G enters from the south on Third Street, crosses to Columbia and makes a right, proceeding up Columbia to the intersection with Green, where it merges with Route 9, follows Green Street out to Fairview Avenue, makes a left turn, and continues north.

In addition to the state truck routes, Hudson has another curse: the dump trucks hauling gravel from the quarry to the port. When Hudson, in the words of a Department of Transportation (DOT) official, "agreed to carry the touring route numbers through the city" (and with them the trucks) was somewhere in the dim, misguided past. The advent of the dump truck traffic, however, is a more recent thing, coinciding with the defeat, in 2005, of St. Lawrence Cement's plan to build the country's largest coal-fired cement plant in our backyard, and many people have fearfully considered it the proverbial camel's nose under the tent.

The dump trucks bound for the port come out of Newman Road, alongside the cemetery. They make a left turn into Route 23B and then roll into Hudson on Green Street. From Green Street they head west toward the river on Columbia Street. 

Since the City started pressuring them to do so in 2011, trucks heading for the port loaded with gravel make a left turn onto Third Street and head across town to the "causeway"--the old rail bed of Fred Jones's railroad, which was pretty much the death knell for South Bay back in 1889. When the trucks exit the causeway, they head north to the Broad Street railroad crossing, past Basilica Hudson, kicking up lots of dust as they go, and on to the port.

Because DOT will not allow the trucks to make a left-hand turn onto Route 9G from the causeway, once they have dumped their load at the port, they head back to the quarry on city streets--north on Front Street to Columbia, east on Columbia to Green, and on out Green Street to Route 23B and Newman Road.

At Thursday night's meeting, Council president Don Moore, who chairs the Economic Development Committee, announced at the outset that he wanted to limit the discussion to the state truck routes: 9 and 9G. The four-page meeting agenda, distributed to the committee and most of the people in attendance, included email correspondence from David Woodin, director of the DOT Traffic Operations Bureau, to Chad Weckler, who had contacted Woodin about Hudson's truck route issues in December 2010. That communication summarized the problem:
The Vehicle & Traffic Law allows cities to regulate truck traffic on their streets. However, if a municipal street connects two state highways as is the case of US 9 and other Hudson routes, then the city cannot restrict trucks unless it provides a suitable alternative route. That route typically has to be within the municipal boundaries. Hudson cannot simply dump its traffic into the adjoining communities unless those towns are willing to take on the extra traffic. As have other cities across the state found, the adjoining communities want no part of taking on the city traffic. Therefore, the City of Hudson cannot unilaterally shut down the truck traffic on their streets when they connect state highways because they have no suitable alternative routes to divert the truck traffic to.
Quoting the statement that Hudson "cannot simply dump its traffic into adjoining communities," Moore questioned whether the truck traffic through Hudson really is the city's traffic. Committee member John Friedman (Third Ward), alluding to the fact that so many trucks that pass through Hudson are bound for the supermarkets and big boxes of Greenport, suggested that the language needed to be changed. "Greenport," he said, "is dumping its traffic on us."

Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) suggested, from the audience, that enforcement was the way to get truck drivers to go by way of Route 9H but bemoaned that fact that local police are not trained to enforce laws that pertain to trucks.

Audience member Bob Mechling suggested the same solution that had been proposed by Linda Mussmann in April 2012: close one of the two truck routes through Hudson. It's not clear if the two of them had the same truck route in mind for closure. At Thursday's meeting, however, Mussmann had a new idea: allow parking on both sides of Columbia Street. That, she said, would send the message "find another route." Moore countered that the "other route" found by truckers would likely be State Street or Warren Street.

A couple of times during the meeting, reference was made to a grant that has been applied for, from the Department of Environmental Conservation Office of Environmental Justice: $50,000 to assess the impact of truck traffic on the infrastructure, public health, economic activity, quality of life of the city and do a survey of the origin and destination of trucks entering the city. According to Moore, "without that objective data [from the origin and destination survey], we cannot talk effectively with Claverack and Greenport." Word on the outcome of the grant application is expected in about a month.

Although Moore wanted the discussion to stay focused on the state truck routes, the conversation inevitably shifted to the gravel trucks. Committee member Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward) advocated for two-way traffic on the causeway, maintaining that it would eliminate all gravel trucks on Columbia Street below Third and on Front Street. Pierro speculated that DOT might relax the prohibition on trucks leaving the causeway making a left turn onto Route 9G "if we went to them and promoted it."

This inspired Melissa Auf der Maur and Tony Stone, owners of Basilica Hudson, to speak up in protest. Auf der Maur asserted that trucks shouldn't be anywhere in the city and declared that she would object to having all the dump truck traffic on the causeway. Going to or from the causeway, every truck would pass the Basilica. "Two-way traffic," said Auf der Maur, "is going to ruin our business," which she described, rightfully, as "a huge asset to the city."

Stone objected to the remedies suggested, calling them "out-of-line." "We are pitting parts of the city against each other," he said. When Pierro started to talk about the positive impact for Hudson "if they got the road through Greenport," referring to the haul road Holcim/O&G proposed two years ago, lining up with the causeway and going from Route 9G to Route 9, Stone reacted, "Let's not treat people like they're idiots here." He posited that the "end goal" of widening and lengthening the private road was "to increase volume to the port."  

Auf der Maur said she was "scared and frustrated." "The truck thing," she said, "is going to make or break the future of the waterfront." Haddad concurred. "It's going to be almost impossible to pull our LWRP together with gravel dust in place."

Audience member Helen Arrott brought the focus of the discussion to the corner of Columbia and Third streets. She spoke of trucks running up onto the sidewalk because they cannot make the turn. She told how her house on North Third Street, which she claims is older than the city itself, is regularly shaken by the vibrations caused by heavy trucks passing in such close proximity. "If my house were brick," she said, "it would be rubble at the moment." Arrott called for structural engineers "to find out what these streets will bear," saying there are "hollow sewers under the streets." Arrott expressed the opinion that the current volume of truck traffic was inappropriate for "this little ancient town," calling it "a threat to historic properties."

Noah Fischel, who owns the beautifully restored historic building on the northeast corner of Third and Warren streets, took up the theme introduced by Arrott, suggesting that the City should "approach this from a historic preservation point of view," focusing on the destructive impact that truck traffic has on Hudson's historic architecture. He reiterated Friedman's suggestion that we needed to change the language when talking about trucks: it is not Hudson wanting to dump its truck traffic on other municipalities, it is those municipalities that are dumping their traffic on Hudson.

When historic preservation was suggested as a possible basis for freeing Hudson from the tyranny of trucks, city attorney Cheryl Roberts said she knew an expert "who specialized in the impacts of trucks on historic properties" and said she would contact that person.


  1. Yes, back in December 2010 I started contacting individuals concerning the State Truck Routes. In March 2012 Don Moore asked about my communications and I sent him emails I had received from DOT and links to Register Star articles about the previous meetings.

    Dated December 23, 2010 from David Woodin: "I am quite familiar with your problem. Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy solution. I spoke at a meeting at Hudson City Hall back in June 2008 or 2009 when the truck issue was being debated by local officials. I presented background information regarding what type of trucks are legal on different streets in Hudson. I also spoke about options such as inter-municipal co-operation and enforcement of existing truck laws. I have not had any feedback from the City since that meeting

    I believe that most of the “State Routes” through the City of Hudson are city owned streets. For convenience, the City has agreed to carry the touring route numbers through the city. The state highways tend to stop at the city boundaries. For example, US 9 becomes a city street at the northern Town of Greenport border and does not become a state highway again until the southern Town of Greenport border. The Vehicle & Traffic Law allows cities to regulate truck traffic on their streets. However, if a municipal street connects two state highways as in the case of US 9 and other Hudson routes, then the city can not restrict trucks unless it provides a suitable alternative route. That route typically has to be within the municipal boundaries. Hudson cannot simply dump its traffic into the adjoining communities unless those towns are willing to take on the extra traffic. As have other cities across the state found, the adjoining communities want no part of taking on the city traffic. Therefore, the City of Hudson cannot unilaterally shut down truck traffic on their streets when they connect state highways because they have no suitable alternative routes to divert the truck traffic to.

    There have been proposals to build bypasses around the city and in the city, but given the cost, that is very unlikely and is more of a long term solution. Very few new highways are being built anymore. Most of the available funding (and there is less and less each year) goes to rehabbing existing highways."

  2. (the rest of that email: The only way that the Hudson truck traffic problem will be solved is if the individual communities unite for the better good of the area. For now, the surrounding communities are holding firm that they don’t want truck traffic diverted to their highways. That is their right, but a healthy Hudson economy will also benefit them as well.

    January 3, 2011:

    "Today, I pulled out my file from the meeting that I attended in Hudson. It was actually held in September 2009.

    One of the points I made at the meeting was that the City of Hudson could control some of the truck traffic that passes through the city. One of my duties is to designate highways within the state (both state and local highways) for use by a class of vehicles called special dimension vehicles. This category of trucks include 53’ trailers, stinger steered autocarriers, tractor trailer combinations that are longer than 65 ft overall (usually due to a long sleeper cab), and twin 28’ pup tandem trailers. All of these vehicle combinations meet the standard weight requirements (80,000 pounds maximum), but they require special permission to operate because they exceed the maximum vehicle combination length of 65 feet. Most importantly, although these vehicles are longer than the standard legal combination, their operating characteristics are such that they can turn as well or better than the standard 48 foot trailer w/cab (this 65 foot vehicle combination is the benchmark vehicle for operation comparisons).

    Looking at the map of designated truck routes for special dimension vehicles within Hudson, I had told the audience that some of the major truck routes through the city allows tractor trailer combinations, but not tractor trailer combinations over 65 feet. The local police could issue tickets to those offending vehicles. The downside is that once a ticket is issued, the operator usually applies for the route to be designated. It is a 90 day process and the criteria evaluates specific geometric issues like lane width, accident history, and use of the route by standard 48 foot tractor trailer combinations. Typically 99% of all requests are approved. Dislike of large trucks and local opposition are not factors that are considered.

    A 53’ trailer or a tractor trailer combo longer than 65” (look for a long sleeper cab) that comes across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and is looking to go to the new plazas north of the city along Fairview Avenue is likely to be operating illegally within certain parts of the city. For example, NY 9G/23B is designated north to L&B Products near the Amtrak Station. Beyond L&B, this route is not legal for those vehicle combinations until the intersection of Green Street and Worth Avenue. Worth Avenue, Green Street, Fairview Avenue as far as Healy Boulevard, Healy Blvd are all designated for special dimension vehicles. NY 23B east of the city is designated from ADM Milling east towards Claverack.

    Some, but not all of the large truck traffic can be restricted within the city. Since I have not had any further contact with the City since the September 2009 meeting, I don’t know if they are targeting special dimension vehicles for enforcement along 3rd Street and Columbia Street, both which are not designated at this time.

    Here’s a list of highways in the Greater Hudson Area that are designated for special dimension vehicles.

  3. (continued)

    "Here’s a list of highways in the Greater Hudson Area that are designated for special dimension vehicles.

    US 9 Healy Boulevard (Hudson) to the northern Town of Ossining‑Village of Ossining line in the Cities of Hudson, Poughkeepsie and Peekskill, Towns of Greenport, Livingston, Clermont, Red Hook, Rhinebeck, Hyde Park, Poughkeepsie, Wappinger, Fishkill, Philipstown, Cortlandt and Ossining, and the Villages of Red Hook­, Rhinebeck, Wappingers Falls, Fishkill and Croton-on-Hudson. (COLUMBIA, DUTCHESS, PUTNAM and WESTCHESTER)

    NY 9G Western junction of NY 9G/NY23 overlap (Rip Van Winkle Bridge Approach) to the L&B Products terminal, a distance of 2.5 miles, in the City of Hudson and the Town of Greenport. (COLUMBIA).

    NY 9H US 9 (Valatie) to NY 82 in the Towns of Kinderhook, Ghent, Claverack and Livingston, and the Village of Valatie. (COLUMBIA).

    NY 23 I 88 (Exit 15) to the New York‑Massachusetts State line in the City of Oneonta, the Towns of Oneonta, Davenport, Kortright, Harpersfield, Stamford, Gilboa, Roxbury, Prattsville, Ashland, Windham, Durham, Cairo, Catskill, Greenport, Livingston, Claverack, Hillsdale, Taghkanic and Copake, and the Villages of Stamford and Catskill. (OTSEGO, DELAWARE, SCHOHARIE, GREENE and COLUMBIA).

    NY 23B Junction of NY 23 and NY 9G/NY 23B (Greenport) to L&B Products terminal (2.4 miles) in the City of Hudson and the Town of Greenport. (COLUMBIA).

    Junction of US 9 and NY 9G/NY 23B to the junction of US 9 and NY 23B in the City of Hudson. (COLUMBIA).

    ADM Milling Company to the junction of NY 9H/NY 23, NY 9H, and NY 23 in the Towns of Greenport and Claverack. (COLUMBIA).

    NY 66 NY 9H to Healy Boulevard in the Towns of Claverack and Greenport. (COLUMBIA).

    Healy Boulevard US 9 to NY 66 in the Town of Greenport. (COLUMBIA)

    Hope this is helpful."

  4. Carole,

    What a terrific reportorial job! I wish you would cover school board meetings!

    --peter m

  5. I live on Columbia between 5th and 6th and regularly wake up to the clatter of falling objects from shelves or even tables. Wall hangings also come tearing out of the plaster. Its amazing how fast the semis come barreling down Columbia during the night...sometimes approaching 50 mph and usually running the red lights all the way through.

  6. Two-way traffic on the causeway will require widening of the road, claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

    Widening the causeway road automatically triggers reviews by all of the following agencies, all of which include public hearings:

    1. State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR is automatic in a Class I wetlands);

    2. DEC: Freshwater Wetlands Permit (Scenic Hudson is automatically notified and included as per 2010 stipulations);

    3. DOS: Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat's "Habitat Impairment Test" (cf. DOS SCFWH Memorandum, 1984);

    4. DOT;

    5. City of Hudson Planning Commission (cf. Common Council audio of President Moore stating that Core-Riverfront District along the causeway is only as wide as the present road, 2/11/13).

  7. Problem is the trucks aren't going away without some other supply system, so where do they go unless you build another road? The only obvious solution is to close 9G and make all the trucks to up to 9. Then either go up past the hospital at Prospect to Columbia to 66, or better you go across Ten Broeck Ln past the cemetery to Paul to Columbia to 66.
    You would have to widen some roads, cut some corners to make the turns easier. Anyone along the way is going to complain like holy hell, so what do you do? Get rid of the gravel pit, that's one thing that could be done.

    1. Oh please. Trucks on Prospect Ave is an insane idea. First they'll shake the hospital, second, the intersection by the cemetary leading
      to Columbia Street is extremely awkward, there wouldn't be room for a semi to stand between the two stop signs and they could never make the corner onto Columbia Street, or vice versa. The egress from Rossman Avenue is also dangerous as it is - imagine with semi's barrelling down the hill.

  8. Dear Slow Art, The gravel business may be awful, but since it's clearly a legal business, by what right can anyone "get rid of it" except the owner?

    -- Jock Spivy

    1. Jock, I'm so glad that someone asked!

      Initially, the public was concerned about ridding only the waterfront of gravel activities, and that WAS possible if we took the long view.

      In the 2009 draft LWRP, the proposed zoning for the South Bay allowed the transport of gravel across the causeway as a "nonconforming use."

      Had we stuck with that, we would have been able to anticipate the causeway's eventual disuse perhaps in a decade or two, perhaps sooner.

      Although the public was wholly enthusiastic about the proposal, in making its own "public comments," O&G Industries registered the sole protest.

      (I put "public comments" in scare quotes because when the final LWRP appeared, and when we saw that the proposed zoning was completely changed to accommodate all of O&G's suggestions, the reason for the changes as reported by attorney Cheryl Roberts was "the public comments"!)

      Because nonconforming status does threaten a sunsetting option on a use that's seen as increasingly inappropriate (gravel across the causeway), when coupled with a law prohibiting trucks below 3rd Street (for instance), and with no other viable alternative for the company to export its product, you'd be right to ask whether the causeway's "eventual disuse" brought about by a mere zoning trick wouldn't amount to a "taking" of their operation.

      Too few have appreciated the finer details about how the LWRP was cooked for the benefit of Holcim/O&G.

      The public couldn't have known it at the time, but there was an alternative so viable that it's already come to pass. If it had been presented in the SEQR review as it should have been, it would have changed the entire calculus of the LWRP.

      Because the LWRP's drafters fully anticipated the new rail alternative from Greenport (the rail side yard in the vicinity of ADM), a hypothetical about possible rail alternatives which was posed in a public comment had to be deftly dispatched by LWRP attorney Cheryl Roberts.

      In the hypothetical that's already come to pass, "[a]ll the negative impacts of transporting gravel to the dock and the presence of O&G at the dock could thus be obviated" (GEIS 3.1.24).

      So how did Roberts handle the problem? She intentionally misunderstood the comment!

      Roberts treated the comment as if it meant its opposite, then gave the Lead Agency's official Response that all railroad alternatives TO the port were already examined and discovered to be "not feasible."

      Plans for the new rail spur were already known in City Hall, and should have been factored in to a sunsetting equation in a nonconforming use of the causeway plus prohibition of gravel trucks from the lower city.

      Our betters in City Hall couldn't allow this to happen, even though the public had overwhelmingly supported the zoning proposal of the draft LWRP in the public comments.

      The zoning we got instead was the industry's own zoning proposal, along with some nebulous promises that don't look like they're going to pan out.

      The same individuals who crapped up the LWRP are on top of the situation today: Moore, Roberts, the supervisors, many of the same aldermen ...

      Neighbors, please TAKE BACK THE LWRP!!!

      It was never submitted to the state. It's been sitting in a drawer in City Hall since 2011.

    2. In other words, these same officials are now prepared to tackle a problem they actually made worse.

      But notice they won't consider undoing their previous misdeeds; instead the parts they played will boil down to a single narrative: "Holcim and O&G cheated us!!"

      Very convenient, but didn't the public repeatedly warn these same individuals not to trust H/OG?

      "Chutzpah: 1892, from Yiddish khutspe "impudence, gall" from Heb. hutspah. The classic definition is that given by Leo Rosten: "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."

      Let's not do anything until we can get a city government we can trust.

    3. You may not have to wait too long for a major change in Hudson's Gov't & Hudson voters.
      Many of the so called "same officials" & the voters who elected them are aging.
      Maybe in another 10-20 years all the "Hudsonians by birth" will be long gone.

  9. It is my opinion that the NY State Police regulate the rules/regulations for truck traffic along NYS highways & have at times "weigh stations" set up for inspections.
    The inspections include drivers records, truck dimensions & weight.
    Since a few of the truck routes thru the streets of Hudson are State Hwys, why not ask the State Police to assist Hudson & set up "weigh stations" before the trucks enter Hudson.
    It may be a start to gather facts on the size & weights of trucks traveling in & out of Hudson.

  10. Its time for this city to put together a team of individuals who will take responsibility for moving this issue forward (a trucking committee, if you will). One thing that's easy to see is that there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and that the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing. Issues are raised, solutions proposed and yet nothing happens from one meeting to the next. Let's face it, City officials have other unresolved issues on their plates, and trucks just get added to a growing list of problems. For those of us on the outside, the lack of progress on this issue is baffling, and rather depressing.

    1. Sure thing Signifier, just as soon as the same experts who continue to dominate policy-making in Hudson put together the LWRP subcommittees for the first time.

      Subcommittees composed of residents were always recommended by the state agency which sponsors the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, but our handlers in Hudson knew better. Linda Mussman knew better, and later Cheryl Roberts.

      You see, the public was always supposed to be on the outside. And in return, over the last few years anyway, we knew we could count on Mr. Moore's version of "transparency."

      So let the technicians take care of the problem, which they obviously do very well. Amateurs need not apply themselves, which is why we elect our special folks. At least that's how Mr. Moore understands the deal. So you just pipe down and ignore that man behind the curtain.

      (TD is probably correct about having to wait 10-20 years.)

  11. The problem with Hudson's "leaders" is that they simply refuse to make "right" turns. What's wrong with full trucks entering left onto the Causeway from 9G? Send the laden trucks down from Mt Marino, one way over the causeway. Force Greenport to share the traffic load. Allowing only empties to make the return trip through Hudson, would reduce both traffic and inner City wear and tear.

    1 Riparian