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Wheatfield rejects sidewalk at scene of fatal hit-run; will seek to widen shoulders

The stepmother of a 16-year-old killed in a hit-and-run accident said Tuesday that she was “disappointed and frustrated” by the Town Board’s rejection of a plan to install a sidewalk along the road where he was struck in November 2014.

Kelly Dueger, stepmother of Ryan Fischer, said she asked originally for wider shoulders on Krueger Road.

Ryan Fischer

But when told that would be too expensive, Dueger and others gathered 662 petition signatures from residents to bolster the town’s grant application for the sidewalk. The state Department of Transportation last year approved a $756,000 grant. The town would have to cover the remaining 20 percent of the project’s costs, for a town share of $189,000, to put a sidewalk on one side of the road

On Monday, the board rejected that idea, as no one seconded Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe's motion to pay the local share out of the town's surplus.

Instead, the board voted 4-1 to ask the DOT for a grant to be used to widen the shoulders of the road.

Councilman Randall W. Retzlaff said doubling the width of the current 27-inch shoulders on both sides of the one-mile-long road would cost between $200,000 and $250,000 in all. He said the town still hopes for an 80-20 grant from the DOT.

The town's grant writer has already sounded out the DOT about that, according to Councilman Larry L. Helwig.

"They said it wasn't totally out of the question," Helwig said.

"There's always a chance that we might be able to do it in-house," Retzlaff said.

Not having to hire a contractor might be even cheaper, Helwig said - perhaps about $80,000 for the full project.

He said the town has $708,000 in its unappropriated general fund surplus, but the surplus has been steadily dropping for the past four years.

Retzlaff said the town is planning to repave Krueger Road in 2018 anyway, but he said the town will do its best to have the shoulders widened this year.

"Originally, that's what they wanted," Retzlaff said. "I think it would be good, and I think it can be done."

"It would be better than nothing," Dueger conceded. But she said a sidewalk would be better.

Dueger said wide shoulders on a road "tend to make people pick up their speed. It's a psychological thing."

But mostly, she said she's upset because of all the effort she and her friends put in.

"With my heart broken, I was trying to keep this neighborhood safe," Dueger said. "Two years of my life wasted, and then they back out at the last minute. I'm frustrated."

The elected officials said their constituents had made it clear that they didn't want the town to starting constructing sidewalks on town roads. Helwig said the only sidewalks in Wheatfield are on major state or county roads.

Cliffe, who cast the only vote against widening the shoulders, said 72 percent of the residents who responded to a straw poll opposed the sidewalk project, the funding mechanism or both. He said councilmen who went door-to-door in the neighborhood reported similar levels of opposition.

Using the surplus to pay the 20 percent town share of the project was proposed as a substitute for imposing a special district tax in the neighborhood.

"A lot of people like the rural atmosphere," Helwig said. "Some of them are worried that if we put (sidewalks) on Krueger Road, we'd end up putting them on other roads. We'd have to maintain them, and we've never really had sidewalks on town roads."

"Since they got wind of this money (for the sidewalk), people have been coming out of the woodwork to oppose it," Retzlaff said. "The people are not happy."

As for whether a sidewalk or wide shoulders is safer, Retzlaff said, "It depends who you ask on that. We're not making it any worse."

Wheatfield road where teen died in hit-run may finally get a sidewalk

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