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COUNTY TO DROP NORTH FOREST WIDENING IF TOWN TAKES OVER ROAD

The county will drop plans to widen North Forest Road if the Town of Amherst assumes ownership of the road, officials said Tuesday.

The county has proposed widening the county road to better accommodate the 15,000 cars and trucks that travel on it each day. Meanwhile, residents oppose the project for fear it would invite more and faster traffic.

"There are two opposing philosophies of what that road should be," said John Loffredo, county public works commissioner. "In order to get out of this dilemma, we're willing to give it to town. If the Town Board voted tomorrow, it'd be theirs."

Town officials aren't enthusiastic about the idea, however.

"To my knowledge, I don't know when we've ever done that," Supervisor Susan J. Grelick said. "I would hope we could reach a compromise for the residents before that would be considered."

So far, Town Board members have sided with the residents, holding public meetings and passing resolutions that have no force of law.

County Legislator Barry Weinstein, R-Amherst, said he believes "a slow, safe road is in the best interest of the North Forest residents, the Town of Amherst and the community at large."

But Loffredo countered that if town leaders want to preserve the neighborly, country feeling of the winding road, the road should be considered a residential town road, not a county thoroughfare.

If North Forest remains a county road, "We in good conscience can't keep it the way it is," Loffredo said.

Loffredo added that the county would fix the road, following town instructions, before turning it over to the town.

The county wants to widen to 35 feet a one-mile stretch of North Forest between Sheridan Drive and Maple Road -- a bit wider at three intersections in the stretch. Officials say it is dangerous and could be made safer by adding turning lanes.

Many residents want two 12-foot lanes and 2-foot shoulders, or 28 feet of width. Currently the road is 22 to 24 feet wide with no paved shoulders.

Tuesday, Amherst Town Board Member Peggy G. Santillo sent County Executive Gorski a letter asking him to drop the current plan.

Gorski's reply was swift: Sure, as long as the town takes over.

"We've compromised in terms of bringing the width down to 35 feet," said Scott Brown, a Gorski spokesman. "If that's unacceptable to the Town Board and homeowners, we are more than willing to fix up the road the way they want and then turn it over to the town permanently."

Added Brown: "We're sensitive to the concerns of the homeowners who live along North Forest Road, but we have other concerns as well -- and that's for the safety of the thousands of people who drive that road every day."

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