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AMHERST RESIDENTS RESIST PLAN TO WIDEN N. FOREST

Residents balked Monday at Erie County's revised plan to widen a one-mile stretch of North Forest Road in Amherst.

They warned that the road would become dangerous if the county proceeded with the plan because a wider, straighter road would invite more cars at faster speeds.

"You make it wider, and they'll go faster," said Robert Hochberg of 1075 North Forest.

The county wants the road to be better able to accommodate the 15,000 cars and trucks that travel the road each day, while residents wish to preserve the neighborly, country feeling of the winding road.

The competing visions clashed at a Town Hall meeting, and residents grew upset over what they view as the county's use of misleading accident statistics and refusal to listen.

At one point in the public meeting, after county officials presented their plan, a Town Board member had to interrupt the meeting and call for the county officials to return to their seats.

The county officials had left the room or were carrying on private conversations between themselves in back of the room when the public was given their first chance to comment.

"I was pretty shocked that the board had to almost command the county officials to come back into the meeting room to listen," said Council Member James P. Hayes.

"The logic expressed by the residents is compelling," Hayes said, and he called the county's plan "dead on arrival."

County officials proposed a width of 35 feet between Sheridan Drive and Maple Road. The pavement would be wider, with turning lanes, at three spots: the Chapel and the town's separate engineering and highway facilities on North Forest.

The county also proposed straightening what county officials call a dangerous curve in the road.

The plan includes sidewalks on both sides of the road.

"We have a responsibility to the driving public," said John Loffredo, Erie County commissioner of public works.

Residents dispute the curve is dangerous and said accidents that have occurred there involved alcohol, tailgating, braking for ducks or pulling out of a driveway in a snowstorm.

More crashes occurred on the road's straight sections, said Hochberg, who reviewed Amherst police statistics.

Residents at the town meeting heaped most of their ridicule on part of the plan that called for 5 1/2 -foot-wide paved shoulders to allow for passing.

The county said the paved shoulders are necessary to keep traffic flowing.

Loffredo said if a car stops in one of the driving lanes to turn off the road, motorists behind that car would be able to pass using the shoulder.

Nobody's been killed yet on North Forest, described by residents as a safe road, but if the county encourages passing on the paved shoulders, the chances of a fatality will rise, residents said.

"This plan is an insult," said Maureen Schmitt, whose house at 866 North Forest is across from the Chapel, a 3,500-member church. "We don't want a passing lane. I thought it was illegal to pass on the shoulder. It's unacceptable. We don't need it."

Most residents want two 12-foot lanes and 2-foot shoulders on each side, or 28 feet of width. The road now is 22 to 24 feet wide with no paved shoulders.

Some roads allow motorists to drive onto a shoulder to pass a stopped car on the road, if they do so safely.

An earlier proposal called for a 40-foot width, including an addition of a center turning lane.

Attorney Jose Fernandez of 1045 North Forest said traffic moves slower on the road because of the curves.

If the county could make a persuasive case that lives would be saved and accidents reduced by the revised plan, Fernandez said he would go along.

"I'm not going to put someone's life in danger because I want to preserve my property," Fernandez said. "But not one person has died on this road. What they propose will increase the chances of that."

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