By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, on Monday called on state Department of Transportation (DOT) officials to conduct a comprehensive study of the traffic problems being caused by the large trucks at the busy Chobani yogurt factory.
In a letter to the state agency, Seward said the roads near the Chobani plant have seen “a significant spike” in traffic in the six years that Chobani first began manufacturing yogurt at the plant off State Route 8 in the Chenango County town of Columbus.
The Daily Star reported two weeks ago that there have been 26 tractor trailer accidents on State Route 8 in South New Berlin in just three years — with most of them coming at one of three curves in the road.
Seward told The Daily Star he will be attending a meeting today with members of the Chenango County and Otsego County planning departments, state DOT representatives, Chobani supervisors and State Police.
He said he hopes the meeting produces an “effective strategy” that will identify solutions for the traffic troubles that have triggered complaints from residents of both counties.
DOT spokesman David Hamburg said his agency is already addressing the Chobani traffic situation by installing improved signs on one curve in South New Berlin and upgrading shoulder edges nearby. The agency is also reviewing speed limits on State Route 8 and other state roads near the plant.
He said DOT will line Route 8 this summer with rumble strips, which alert drivers when they veer outside their lane.
Chobani has yet to issue a comment on the recent spate of truck accidents. Police and fire officials who have had to contend with the crashes have said many of the mishaps involved drivers who were contractors, as opposed to regular employees of the yogurt company.
Seward said Chobani’s tremendous growth in recent years has produced more than 1,200 jobs, and has helped to stoke the region’s economy. But with that success, he said, has come “growing pains,” such as the traffic problems.
He said he also wants the officials to address traffic problems that have cropped up in nearby South Edmeston, a hamlet in Otsego County. Some residents there have told The Daily Star that truck drivers have indicated their GPS directional devices have led them to take smaller county roads even though they generally prefer to keep their rigs on state thoroughfares for as much as possible.
Seward said state police have already increased their presence on State Route “8, a development he called “a great start.”
“Additionally, I am respectfully requesting a full DOT study to review traffic patterns, pinpoint trouble spots and develop a measured response plan that will ensure the safety of all motorists,” the senator said.