SCHOHARIE – The safety of intersection Route 30 South and Route 30A in Schoharie has been called into question following Saturdays deadly limousine crash that left 20 dead.
According to residents, the intersection has long been problematic in the Schoharie County town about 35 miles outside Albany.
Theres been accidents here before, said Bill Getz, a Schoharie resident since 1974 who lives just five minutes from the scene.
“I know that they have become angels in our eyes and in Jesus’s eyes, and I’m just really hurt and saddened, and I just really appreciate my family,” Shannon Hoogkamp, of Amsterdam, said.
Route 30 South runs downhill until it meets Route 30A near the Apple Barrel Country Store, the scene of Saturdays deadly accident, the worst in the U.S. in nearly a decade.
Its a long downhill, Getz said of Route 30 South, the same road a modified 2001 Ford Excursion limo was traveling down before crashing.
The crash left 20 dead, including the vehicles 17 passengers, its driver and two patrons at the popular country store.
The group was on their way to Ommegang, a craft brewery in Cooperstown, to celebrate a friends birthday, according to Karina Halse, whose sister was killed in the deadly crash.
She texted me saying were getting a limousine to get to Ommegang, said Halse of her last communication with her sister.
Efforts to fix the troubled intersection have been made in the past, according to Schoharie Town Supervisor Alan Tavenner.
There were some modifications 10 or 12 years ago to make it more direct, a T. It was a Y intersection before, Tavenner said.
As a result, about four years ago, tractor trailers were banned from using that route and detoured elsewhere.
State and federal investigators confirmed Monday they are reviewing the intersection and whether its configuration played a role in the deadly crash.
There are separate questions about the safety of the limousine itself after it failed a state inspection last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and State Police said.
State officials said in the 10 years since the intersection was reconstructed, there have been four accidents.
In 2013, to address the concerns of Apple Barrels owner that trucks were losing control on the downhill slope, the state restricted the area to vehicles of 18 tons or less, state officials say.
Two years later, in January 2015, the weight restriction was lowered to five tons. And by the end of the 2015, trucks were banned altogether.
Questions over the safety of the intersection remained Monday as the National Transportation Safety Board and State Police continued to investigate the deadly crash.
“We got to let the NTSB do their job. We need to let the State Police do their job, and then well take the information that they give us…and we will bring legislation after we get the reports back from all the investigators,” said Assemblyman Christopher Tague, R- Schoharie.
Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, Columbia County, who said he has driven Route 30 South “many times” in the past, said its too early to consider any legislation at this point.
“Whether the driver observed it, saw it, whether he had a mechanical failure in the vehicle, whether the drive was incapacitated in some fashion — we dont know. Thats what the investigation is here to tell us.”
As the investigation continues, those who lost loved ones are still coming to terms with the tragedy. And some came to the intersection to put down flowers at the roadside memorial.
Its been indescribable. I have absolutely no words, said Halse, whose sister, Amanda and boyfriend Patrick Cushing, were killed in the limousine.
“I feel for the families, the loved ones, the friends and also feel bad for the community because were all suffering,” he said at the scene.
Chad Arnold is a staff writer for the USA TODAY Networks Albany Bureau. Thomas Zambito is a staff writer with The Journal News.
The intersection of state routes 30 and 30A has a reputation for being dangerous, as Route 30 comes down a long hill to a T-intersection controlled by a stop sign.
The limousine went through that intersection without stopping and hit a car in the parking lot of the Apple Barrel country store Saturday.
“Im not an engineer, but I can tell you, coming down that hill even in regular car or my pickup truck, you have to pump your brakes,” said state Assemblyman Christopher Tague, R-Schoharie. “If youre not someone familiar with that road, that stop comes up quick.”
The intersection of routes 30 and 30A was reconstructed by the state Department of Transportation in 2010 to “improve safety and address geometric and operational deficiencies,” according to a DOT press release at the time. Previously, Route 30 met Route 30A at an angle.
In 2013, based on concerns about heavy trucks coming down the Route 30 hill, DOT imposed an 18-ton weight restriction on that section of road; in January 2015, the limit was lowered to 5 tons; and in December 2015, trucks were banned entirely.
DOT traffic counts show Route 30A, which has the Schoharie exit for Interstate-88, is by far the busier road. Traffic counts from 2015 show that Route 30A is used by 6,219 vehicles per pay on average, while Route 30 is used by only 1,165 vehicles.
Tague, a former Schoharie town supervisor, said he knows there have been other incidents, including at least two since the reconstruction, when tractor-trailers have gone through the intersection after coming down the hill.
Tague, who attended a Monday morning briefing at the Schoharie County Sheriffs Department with U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, and state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said the legislators hope to see improvements, though they will wait until the state police and NTSB conclude their investigations.
“We want to make sure we do anything we can to make sure something like this never happens again,” Tague said