It can be scary – and deadly – driving along Southwestern Boulevard (U.S. Route 20) in Hamburg.
“When you approach on Route 20 and want to make a left-hand turn, you’re paying more attention to your rearview mirror than you are in front of you,” said Chuck Hedges, who lives in the Villas at Brierwood, a development off Southwestern.
At a meeting organized in January by Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, to address safety concerns on the 55 mph road, one Villas resident put the worries of driving along Southwestern like this: “Is this the day I turn in here and die?”
At least three people have died in crashes on the road in less than four years.
Now, changes are coming:
• The state Department of Transportation will build a continuous two-way center turn lane on the road between Lakeview and Amsdell roads.
• There also will be rumble strips – also known as shoulder audible roadway delineators, or SHARDs – installed to provide drivers with a physical vibration and an audible warning that their vehicles are leaving the driving lane.
• Deer warning signs will be erected between Pleasant Avenue and Amsdell Road.
The changes come after several fatal accidents on that stretch of Southwestern. Last August, Ryan asked the DOT to conduct a traffic study, and he hosted a public meeting in January at the Villas at Brierwood for public input. Early last week, Hamburg’s traffic safety committee chairman called for changes in the road after another fatal accident.
The DOT’s traffic study found that the section of Southwestern between Pleasant and Amsdell had a higher-than-expected accident rate when compared with similar roads in the state.
There were 136 crashes in the study area over the last three years. Of those, 30 percent involved rear-end collisions, 22 percent involved animal collisions, and 16 percent involved cars running off the road. The remaining 32 percent were due to a variety of other factors.
“I thank the residents of the Town of Hamburg for pushing for change, and I thank the DOT for listening to the public’s concerns and conducting a very thorough traffic study,” Ryan said in a statement.
Ted Casey, chairman of Hamburg’s Traffic Safety Committee, said ultimately the road will be safer. “They demonstrated they can respond quickly when prompted to address what appears to be significant issues,” he said.
Casey had demanded that the speed limit be lowered, as well, but the state traffic study found that 85 percent of vehicles travel at or below 60 mph.
The state plans to install the deer crossing signs this year. But creating the center turn lane and installing the rumble strips will take longer. The DOT plans to involve the community while it is determining whether the road should be reduced to three lanes or expanded to five lanes when adding the turning lane.
Public meetings and outreach are to be scheduled, and an environmental-impact study will be conducted, according to the assemblyman.
“I urge the DOT to move forward with their plans as quickly as possible, so that the safety of this roadway can be greatly improved,” Ryan said.