March 13, 2008

Study Examines Traffic Near C.U. on Route 89

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According to Linda Haas Manley, program coordinator for the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, residents on Route 89 on the other side of Lake Cayuga have to keep their windows closed, even during the summer, because of the noise and fumes created by the garbage trucks’ constant travel down their local roads. Cars have to back up to avoid getting hit as the garbage trucks make wide turns taking up both lanes. Commuters have decided to avoid the streets with the garbage trucks on their daily drives, and parents are afraid to let their children play in the front lawn of their homes on roads frequented by the trucks.[img_assist|nid=28807|title=Stuck in a jam|desc=Traffic conditions are a growing concern in Ithaca and the surrounding area.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
CIPA is currently doing a study to gauge the effect of garbage truck traffic on citizens who live on or use New York State Route 89. Haas Manley is heading the study with assistance from five graduate students in CRP 621: Quantitative Techniques for Policy Analysis taught by Prof. David Lewis, city and regional planning; and CRP 679.80: Approaches to Consulting, Research, Evaluation and Program Development taught by Haas Manley.
Many residents living along Route 89 and other local routes have complained to the Upstate Citizens Safety Task Force about the garbage trucks’ continual presence on the local roads. Rather than staying on the interstate, the garbage trucks get off early and continue on local roads to arrive at the Seneca Meadows Landfill. The complaints include issues relating to the fumes, noise and traffic generated by the garbage trucks, as well as concerns about safety, the environment and infrastructure. The study began in early February, and Haas Manley hopes to compile the preliminary findings by the end of April or early May.
“I consider this a pilot study,” Haas Manley said.
This study is specifically focusing on a section of Route 89 even though residents living on other routes, including Routes 79 and 96, have complained about the trucks as well.
“Residents have called and asked us why we’re not studying their routes,” Haas Manley said.
With only five graduate students assisting her in compiling the data, it is difficult to extend the scope of the study. Haas Manley wants to get enough relevant data in order to conduct subsequent studies about the issue that would include a larger sample and scope.
One component of the study is the creation of focus groups comprised of people who are affected by the trucks in different ways.
Mario Guerrero grad is in charge of working with the focus groups for the study.
“The purpose of the focus groups is to surmise if people that live, work [or] play on Route 89 are being impacted by garbage truck traffic and, if so, how are they being impacted,” he said.
Haas Manley explained that the study is also looking at past studies done about this issue, including truck count studies done last year by The Maxwell School and Wells College. CIPA will also look at what other cities have done to resolve similar issues. In addition, the group will map the routes the trucks currently take to the landfill, as well as potential alternate routes.
“We may find that using the local roads versus the interstate is more cost or time efficient, but if that is the case, we would like to know to what extent this is or is not true,” Haas Manley said.
The CIPA study will also involve contacting experts who have dealt with the issue for a number of years, including city planners, engineers, park directors and more.
“We want to find out what local experts think about how this issue has affected the community,” said Haas Manley.
One person who often deals with the traffic issue is Pam Mackesey, a Tompkins County legislator who is also part of the UCSTF. “These roads were just not built for this kind of weight and heavy traffic,” she said.
Mackesey added that since the roads were not designed with these large trucks in mind, the constant traffic of the garbage trucks poses a safety problem, in addition to causing damage to the roads.
One of the issues about regulating the garbage truck traffic is the vague language in their contracts. In their contracts it states the truck drivers need to stay out of areas that are environmentally sensitive. However, it is very unclear what “environmentally sensitive” means. Many garbage truck drivers feel they have a right to drive on the local roads because it is not clear that they would fall under the vague category of environmentally sensitive.
There has been a bill proposed to the New York State Senate that tried to pass legislation forcing the garbage trucks back onto the interstate by giving the transportation of solid waste similar regulations to that of transporting hazardous waste.
However, Mackesey was quick to point out the fault is not to be pinned solely on the truck drivers. She said their reasons for cutting through the local roads, rather than wasting gas and using the interstate, are understandable. She also noted that the number of landfills in this country is declining while the amount of garbage being generated is not getting any smaller.