April 10, 2008

Major change coming on Game Farm Road?

David Weinstein left this huge piece in comments. Well worth reading!

I learned late last week that the county is planning on widening Game Farm Rd, cutting eight feet of the venerable old-growth forest McGowan Woods on Game Farm Rd. Apparently both the Cornell Plantations Plantations and the Cornell Forest Advisory Board had reluctantly acquiesced on the county's plan to add a foot to each lane of traffic and a bicycle-jogging lane, cutting all the trees in that swath, some of which are quite sizeable. There are, of course, plenty of large trees in McGowan Woods, but anyone who passes the woods regularly knows that there are a profusion of wildflowers right in this swath, and that the unique environment supported by the light diffusing properties of the woods boundary on this east-facing side encourages some spring ephemeral populations to only be found near this boundary. The cutting is not only going to tear up 8 feet of soil on the whole east side of this woods, but will greatly change the morning light penetration into those woods. Although the road builders have apparently agreed to installing some sort of moisture membrane, who really knows how this is going to change the unique drainage of the area.

And why is this being done?

1. Because it is easier to cut the trees than to worry about putting a bic path on the other side of the street (like they did on Pine Tree Rd)?

2. Because cars need to go faster on Game Farm road (as increasing the wide of the driving lane will inevitably cause them to do)?

3. Because drivers need to go fast by Game Farm rd because they are bound to lose time when they have to slow up where the road narrows as it crosses Cascadilla Creek (that is, if they CAN slow up before hitting one of the abutment retaining walls)?

I am all for bicycle lanes everywhere we can install them, but if we need to move some electric poles to put these lanes on the other side of the street and avoid changing any part of the McGowan Woods environment, I think that would be well worth it. I do not see any reason for widening the driving lane at all, and I thought we had already learned that lesson locally. Note that Coddington Rd, a major local conduit, has 9 foot lanes. Do we really need 12 foot lanes on Game Farm Rd.

I know the County vetted this idea past knowledgeable people, and so I should be willing to say the process has worked as it should, regardless of the fact that I don't like the conclusion. However, I am amazed that this project has not been subjected to wide public scrutiny (I haven't seen any mention of it, and I watch the local media pretty carefully). I have informed Martha Robertson about this, and she has started asking a lot of people questions, but the trees are now cut to install the drainage (including 3 oaks with diameters between 20 and 30 inches and a group of other trees with diameters between 10 and 20 inches). With the road reconstruction scheduled for next year, all that is left is the post-mortem to figure out how this could be handled differently next time.

I am dismayed that County officials still talk about needing a standard clear zone (an area next to the road that is free of fixed objects) width is 10 feet (John Lampman's words). This is a straight stretch of road. What kind of drivers are we trying to make our roads safe for? The County engineers are still talking about fixed rights-of-way, when clearly state law gives them no jurisdiction over areas that have housed 100 year old trees for a century.

Cutting these trees is not an act of biblical proportions, but there were alternatives through which the road could have been rebuilt and a bic-pedestrian-safe zone could have been created without touching McGowan Woods. There is no evidence that these alternatives were seriously considered, and no evidence that the public was invited to help think through these alternatives with the County.

It sounds like the county highway department's gotten vastly more aggressive in their road design, something that seems like a very bad idea to me. Yes to bike paths - but this doesn't seem like the right way to go about it. I hadn't realized that this project would echo Coddington Road.

Posted by simon at April 10, 2008 1:08 PM in
Note on photos


Robin Hadlock Seeley said:

Looks like the county is again trying to create the impression that they have a 25' ROW - this time on Game Farm road. We have been down this road (!) many times in this county, yet Tompkins County keeps trying to appropriate privately owned real estate for its own purposes (eg Coddington Road).

It's not surprising that the county would want to get Cornell land without paying for it. The only question is - why would Cornell give this section of McGowan Woods away for free?

There is no 25' ROW.