The U.S. Route 219 Victims' Memorial Committee wants to know the number of people killed over the past 50 years in crashes along the 28-mile stretch between Springville and Salamanca.
And when the members find out, they plan to line the roadside with a white cross for each accident victim.
Committee members, who include several Cattaraugus County legislators, mayors and town supervisors from communities in Route 219's path, hope to demonstrate that safety issues warrant federal and state funding for construction of a four-lane or a divided freeway south of Springville.
But the statistics are proving difficult to obtain, according to committee members, who believe at least 100 have died since Route 219 was built in the 1950s. If necessary, they will file Freedom of Information requests for the data, but in the meantime they are seeking volunteers to research newspaper microfilm and obituaries.
Cattaraugus County Legislator Charley Krause, a committee co-chairman, has invited residents, family members and friends of accident victims to supply information at a 7 p.m. meeting today in Great Valley Town Hall.
So far, one local official has obtained a report from the Department of Motor Vehicles documenting 15 deaths between 1980 and 1990.
Also, the state Department of Transportation's draft environmental-impact analysis lists four fatalities along the 28-mile section between 1993 and 1996 and describes some improvements at locations of frequent crashes. The analysis also states 385 accidents occurred during the same three-year period.
Of the most serious accidents, 126 caused injuries and 46 resulted in property damage. The remaining 213 accidents caused minor property damage.
Should a four-lane divided highway be built, lacking access control but equipped with bypass routes around Ellicottville and Salamanca, the expected number of accidents could rise to as many as 395 each year, says the study. Those projections drop to 240 under the freeway option, with 177 of the crashes likely to occur on the Route 219 pavement to be left in place for local travel.
Gary Gottlieb, DOT's Route 219 project manager, said recently that the state is negotiating some old Southern Tier Expressway issues with the Seneca Nation of Indians but the status of the project hasn't changed much since 1998.
The environmental study must be completed by June and submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for a final decision about the project, he added.
"I don't think they really want to give (the statistics) to us," said Great Valley resident and committee Co-chairman Donald Kilby, speaking at a recent committee meeting.
The group has scheduled an outdoor memorial service at Ellicottville Central School for 10 a.m. May 19 to honor the victims, their families and the area's emergency response volunteers.