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June 26, 2013

Seward: DOT overlooked traffic woes at Chobani

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A meeting aimed at improving traffic safety near the Chobani yogurt factory revealed that the state Department of Transportation was unaware of the full scope of truck accidents on local roads because of the way vehicular mishaps are reported to the agency, Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said Tuesday.

“We need better data sharing and better documentation of these accidents,” Seward said in an interview following a strategy session called to deal with the string of truck accidents first reported this month by The Daily Star.

Chobani officials attending the meeting disclosed that about 225 trucks enter the plant in the town of Columbus each day, Seward noted. In addition, about 1,000 workers drive to work each day, contributing to the rise in traffic on local roads since Chobani first began producing yogurt at the former Kraft facility in 2007.

The Daily Star reported June 7 that there have been a rash of tractor-trailer accidents in South New Berlin along a short stretch of State Route 8 — with some 26 recorded in the last three years, according to South New Berlin Fire Chief Kevin Christian.

Seward said DOT has been getting its data on roadway incidents from the Department of Motor Vehicles, which apparently collects far less information than police agencies.

Improving the data flow, he said, “will help build the case for the long-term major improvements” that are needed on State Route 8, such as the straightening of the curves where many of the trucks careened out of control.

Meanwhile, state police have been increasing their monitoring of the traffic on State Route 8 near the Chobani plant, according to both Seward and Chenango County Director of Planning Donna Jones.

Even before the recent expansions at the Chobani plant, Jones said, traffic along Route 8 began increasing.

“There aren’t many routes they can take to get from Interstate 88 to Utica,” she pointed out.

Seward said he was pleased to learn that DOT has already commenced moving forward with what he called “short-term fixes” to the traffic safety issues, such as widening road shoulders at some locations and installing new signs to warn of curves in the road.

“Everyone is working towards the goal of a safer Route 8,” the senator said.

Jones said Chobani has been urging the truck drivers to avoid local county roads and stay on Route 8 for as much as possible.

She added: “We plan on staying on this.”