December 5, 2021

Bridge work leads to shortcut

Unofficial detour over Mill Street in Freeville raises safety concerns

Photos by Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

A car crossing a single-lane bridge on Mill Street in Dryden encounters speed bumps recently installed on the street to slow traffic. Some drivers have been using the neighborhood street to avoid adding at least 5 miles to their trip by using the official detour around a bridge project on Route 38 in downtown Freeville.

FREEVILLE — William Hughes walks down Mill Street to Freeville every morning.

Hughes lives on Brooklyn Road, on the north side of Fall Creek. In the past, maybe four or five cars would pass him on Mill Street. These days, that number has increased 10-fold.

The main bridge through the area — over Fall Creek on Route 38 — has been out since mid-July, when a $3.9 million state bridge rebuilding project began. The new bridge is slated to open Nov. 22.

Traffic has been routed to the east down Peruville Road in the direction of McLean. That’s about 5 miles out of the way for motorists driving between Groton and Dryden on Route 38, and some drivers are avoiding it by using a shortcut that has neighbors and community leaders worried.

For locals, especially residents like Hughes, who lives 100 yards from the Fall Creek bridge, the detour is an annoyance, because under normal conditions, driving south through Freeville to Dryden takes no time at all.

Workers clear the banks of Fall Creek in Freeville to install a new bridge on Route 38 over the creek. Some drivers are using a neighborhood street and a one-lane bridge to avoid adding at least 5 miles to their trip by using the official detour around a bridge project on Route 38 in downtown Freeville.

But he also doesn’t have to use the official detour — and he doesn’t — because there’s a shorter route, Mill Street, on the west side of the village.

“There’s probably a lot of local people doing the same thing,” he said. “People are going to use that shortcut.”

Some people are also speeding while using that shortcut, he said. That observation has been shared by members of the Village of Freeville Google Groups email list over the past week.

Thursday morning, workers from the Town of Dryden highway department laid down speed bumps on four spots on Mill Street, said Rick Young, the town highway superintendent.

“Everyone is racing down that road,” he said, “so we’re going to slow them down a little bit.”

That road also has signs that warn motorists: “One lane bridge ahead, local traffic only, weight limit 5 tons.”

Hughes is local, but some of other new regulars on the road are from farther away, such as Jennifer Foote-Dean of Groton, who said she also uses Mill Street to get around the construction.

But drivers from nearby towns and villages are less of a worry for Hughes than the speeding, which will now be more difficult, as well as another issue: trucks using the Mill Street bridge.

On the Freeville Google Group, Joyce Lovelace reported Wednesday seeing “a tractor-trailer with a very large flatbed trailer, carrying what appeared to be a piece of paving equipment (larger than a backhoe).”

Hughes said he wants to see new signs put up before Mill Street to prevent truck drivers from turning down Mill Street. The first warning signs do not appear until the driver is already on Mill Street.

“But if a truck does start down the road, there’s no place for them to turn around so they’re pretty much committed to going over that bridge,” Hughes said. The road also has deep ditches on either side, and the only possible turning places are private driveways.

Young said trucks shouldn’t go over the bridge and can be ticketed for doing so. He also pointed out that the five-ton restriction is for the road itself, not the bridge.

“The road’s not built for the heavy trucks,” he said.

New York State Department of Transportation officials said the Peruville Road detour was designed with local officials based on existing routes and public input.

The DOT tries “to provide signed routes that are safe and suitable for all legal vehicles while accommodating through travelers and drivers with local destinations,” said department spokeswoman Jennifer Post. “Of course, motorists are free to use other roads to meet their travel needs.”

Regarding trucks using Mill Street, Post said the road is well-marked and drivers of large trucks using the road are breaking the law.

“On each end of Mill Street — well in advance of the bridge — there are signs notifying drivers of the five-ton posted limit, providing ample opportunity to respond accordingly,” Post wrote in an email. “Law enforcement agencies can ticket motorists who violate the weight limit.”