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Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.
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Lettis Highway

BASSETT: Make Lettis Safer: Run Buses Until 9 p.m.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR from LISA R. BASSETT

Make Lettis Safer:

Run Buses Until 9 p.m.

To the Editor:

Regarding the headline in your Jan. 2 edition, “NYDOT Said ‘No’ To Grant At Lettis,” I am really sorry that the transportation grant, applied for by the Town and City of Oneonta, was turned down. But, come to think of it, all of that requested money is not necessary.

The lady, April Johnson, crossed the highway 100 yards from a legal pedestrian crossing area – the intersection. People should know better than to cross a four-lane highway in the dark of night on a roadway that has poor lighting, and especially where automobile drivers do not expect, therefore, are not looking for pedestrians to be crossing.

The second issue is that a lot of people, including myself, walk on that highway to get to the Southside shopping area. Mayor Herzig is right when he said that the roadway could be safer for pedestrians. Yes, we all use it out of necessity, because OPT does not have the Southside Bus operating after 5:30 p.m., except for Wednesday-Saturday, only when the colleges are operating. That is why so many pedestrians are on the road out of necessity to shop and get to work.

A large percent of the permanent residents (non-students) are in the low-income range and don’t have a car, so without a bus, we have to walk on Lettis Highway. Either that or starve and become unemployed!

Solution: Have the Southside bus run until 9 p.m. every night, no matter if the students are here or not. It will keep a lot of people off of the road, minimizing accidents, and the need for a big green median.

If the colleges will not allow OPT to have the buses run apart from their students’ needs, then the only things that are needed are more lighting on the walkway and adding a little more walkway to the one side of the street that has more pedestrians.

From the corner of Maple and Main streets, where that Baptist Church is, you cross Main Street. Install a sidewalk there, along the west side of Lettis Highway, to join the rest of the sidewalk. There are only two or three spots that really need a sidewalk added, such as the bridge, and after the overpass of I-88 to Route 23.

With just those improvements, the money of which will probably be granted since it won’t be as much as was initially requested, and some commonsense by pedestrians, the problem would be solved!

Once again, the commonsense solution, which will eliminate a need for a grant, and the necessity for pedestrians to be on the road at all, would be for the Southside bus to be running past 5:30 p.m. every night Monday-Saturday.

LISA R. BASSETT
Oneonta

Seward Invites DOT Chief To Lettis Crash Scene

Seward Invites DOT Chief

To Lettis Highway Crash Site

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.ALLOTSEGO.com

Dominguez

ONEONTA

In the wake of pedestrian April Johnson’s death, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, has invited state DOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez to Lettis Highway, where the 32 year old woman was struck by a car.

“I want her to tour the area with me and see it first hand,” Seward said. “It wasn’t built with pedestrians in mind, but we need to accommodate them.”

Allied with City Mayor Gary Herzig, the senator hopes to convince the state DOT to award the city and town of Oneonta an $8.7 million grant to implement long-sought safety improvements to the accident-riddled stretch.

Since 2015, there have been 114 accidents with property damage, 20 with injury to pedestrians or passengers, and five hit-and-runs, including a two-car collision on Saturday, Feb. 1, Police Chief Doug Brenner reports.

“It’s a difficult intersection at Main Street,” he said. “And people don’t always slow down coming off the highway, even though it’s marked as 30 miles per hour.”

But following the Dec. 30 accident, where a car driven by David Shafer of Otego struck April Johnson as she crossed the road 100 yards up from the crosswalk, Mayor Gary Herzig renewed his call for DOT funding to add sidewalks and better lighting along the highway.

“It’s sad that this tragic accident took place,” he said. “But it is our responsibility to correct that now, and it remains a top priority that we make the Lettis Highway safe for vehicles and pedestrians.”

Johnson died Jan. 11 at Albany Medical Center, where she had been hospitalized since the accident. She never regained consciousness.

Hers’ is not the first death on the highway. In October 2007, retired Hartwick College economics professor Jack Stuligross, husband of former Otsego County Rep. Kay Stuligross, was struck by a car and killed while riding his bike near the intersection of Southside and Lettis, in front of McDonald’s.

In August 2018, the city, in partnership with the Town of Oneonta, applied for an $8.7 million state DOT grant, with $3.2 million earmarked for the town to build sidewalks on Southside and the remaining balance to build a sidewalk on Lettis Highway, with pedestrian access at Neahwa Park and Pine Street, as well as a green median.

“This has been part of our strategic plan,” said Herzig. “Every day, we see people walking to work or to go shopping, and at night, there is no visibility. It’s not right, and there’s no reason it has to be this way.”

The state denied their application.

According to Herzig, funding is made available every other year, and he believes it will open again in the spring.

“Our intent is to apply again,” he said. “We are planning to meet with the folks from the state to talk about why we weren’t funded and to reiterate the importance of making this highway safe not just for vehicles, but also pedestrians.”

Herzig has also pledged more than $1 million in matching funds to assist the project. “We remain focused and optimistic that we have a strong case for the funding,” he said.

If awarded, it will not be the first time that a pedestrian death has lead to increased safety upgrades in the city. In 2016, the state DOT upgraded the lights and signage at the corner of Main and Chestnut, in the city, at Herzig’s request, after Daniel Heath, 75, was struck by a car that made a left-hand turn, and hit his head when he fell.

DOT Said ‘No’ To Grant; Now, Pedestrian Struck

Woman Treated At Albany Med

DOT Said ‘No’ To Grant;

Now, Pedestrian Struck

Solemn police and firemen stand by as April Johnson, 32, is treated after she was hit by a car on Oneonta’s James Lettis Highway about 100 yards south of Main Street Monday, Dec. 30. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – In 2018, the City and Town of Oneonta collaborated on a state Department of Transportation grant that would have built sidewalks and increased lighting on both sides of Lettis Highway, from Main Street to Route 23, the Southside strip.

Mayor Herzig

“The roadway could be safer for pedestrians,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “It is used by pedestrians out of necessity to get to work or the shops on Southside. “But our application was not funded.”

At 7:45 p.m. Monday, Dec. 30, an Oneonta woman, April Johnson, 32, was struck by a car as she allegedly attempted to cross Lettis Highway just 100 yards from the Main Street intersection.

“The area is not marked for pedestrians and it is dimly lit,” said Police Chief Doug Brenner.
The driver was identified as David Shafer, 41, Otsego, who was driving northbound on the highway. “As he was changing lanes, she just appeared,” said Brenner. “He couldn’t stop in time.”

The front passenger side of the car struck Johnson, and the driver immediately stopped and got out of the car. The friend she was walking with called 911, and Oneonta Police responded to the scene.
“She was lying in the road, very seriously injured,” said Brenner. “The firefighters got her right into an ambulance.”

She was transported to Fox Hospital and transferred to Albany Medical Center, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit and remains in critical condition.

The preliminary investigation revealed that Shafer was not impaired by drugs or alcohol. However, Brenner said, he was issued a ticket for aggravated unlicensed operation, as his license was suspended for unrelated offenses.

“It’s a tragic situation for everyone involved,” said Herzig. “All of our thoughts are with her and her family.”

In October 2018, Katy Doughty, 45, Walton, was struck and killed by an eastbound car when she attempted to cross Route 23 near the Lettis Highway.

Herzig said that even though the city and town were denied the grant, the city “has every intention” of reapplying when the funding is announced again in 2020.

“Upgrading that walkway is part of our strategic plan,” he said. “We intend to continue working with DOT to secure enough funding to assist us in undertaking this multi-million dollar project.”

In addition to the sidewalks in the original proposal, the street lights would be upgraded and lighting installed along the walkway, as well as the installation of a green median.

“It will be more attractive and better connected to our downtown, but more importantly, it
is designed for pedestrian safety and use,” he said.

In 2016, the state DOT upgraded the lights and signage at the corner of Main and Chestnut, in the city, at Herzig’s request, after Daniel Heath, 75, was struck by a car that made a left-hand turn, and hit his head when he fell. He later died of his injuries.

Lettis Highway Accident Victim Identified

Lettis Highway Accident

Victim Identified, In ICU

ONEONTA – Oneonta Police have identified the woman struck by a car last night on the Lettis Highway as April Johnson, 32, Oneonta.

Johnson allegedly crossed the highway in an area not marked for pedestrians and was struck by a car driven by David Shafer, 41, Otsego. She was taken by ambulance to Fox Hospital and transferred to Albany Medical Center, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit.

Oneonta Woman In Critical Condition After Being Struck By Car

Oneonta Woman

In Critical Condition

After Lettis Accident

Oneonta Police and Fire responded to the scene at Lettis Highway, where an Oneonta woman was critically injured after being struck by a car. (James Cummings/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – An Oneonta woman is in critical condition at Fox Hospital after she was struck by a car on the Lettis Highway earlier this evening.

According to Police Chief Doug Brenner, an Oneonta woman was walking with a friend when she allegedly crossed the James F. Lettis Highway approximately 100 yards from the intersection of Main Street.

“The area is not marked for pedestrians and it is dimly lit,” said Brenner.

PEDESTRIAN HIT ON LETTIS HIGHWAY

Exit 15 Ramp Closed After Accident

PEDESTRIAN STRUCK

ON LETTIS HIGHWAY

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – Police are on the scene of a motor vehicle accident on the James F. Lettis Highway after a pedestrian was allegedly hit by a car this evening.

According to Rob O’Brien, Otsego Count 911 director, a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle near the I-88 Exit 15 westbound off-ramp at 7:42 p.m. The pedestrian was transported to Fox Hospital with serious injuries.

The ramp and Lettis Highway have been closed, and police are asking that the public avoid the area. The accident is under investigation.

Main Street, Lettis Highway Vision for Oneonta in 2019

STATE OF THE STATE BREAKFAST

This Year, Oneonta

Will Bloom With DRI

Money, Mayor Says

Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, center, touted plans for a forthcoming re-design of Main Street as part of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative, with work slated to begin this spring. With him on the panel, from right, are Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh and state Senator Jim Seward, R-Milford, speaking at the annual State of the State Breakfast, hosted by the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Senator Seward said, when downstate gets something, Upstate must as well.

ONEONTA – This will be the year, Mayor Gary Herzig said, that the City of Oneonta begins to see the results of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grants

“In 60 days, we’ll unveil the redesign of our downtown,” he said. “And this redesign is not by City Hall, but by 80 downtown business owners who have submitted proposals for $2.5 million in funding for improvements. This is a downtown made possibly by the energy of our local businesses.”

Herzig, alongside Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch and state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, spoke at the annual State of the State breakfast, hosted by the Otsego County Chamber this morning at SUNY Oneonta’s Morris Hall.

$8.7 M. SOUGHT TO UPGRADE LETTIS, BUILD SIDEWALKS

$8.7 M. SOUGHT TO

UPGRADE LETTIS

ONEONTA – The city and town of Oneonta yesterday applied for an $8.7 million state DOT grant to make Lettis Highway safer and more attractive and to build sidewalks between Home Depot and Lowes on Southside.

The grant application was approved at a special common council meeting Wednesday night to meet the deadline. Mayor Gary Herzig said he expects to hear on the application by January.

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