On Feb. 16, New York Sen. Charles Schumer called for a federal safety audit of the intersection that was site to the fatal tractor-trailer crash at Simeon’s restaurant last June.
Speaking at a press conference at Ithaca City Hall, Schumer urged the Federal Highway Administration and the New York State Department of Transportation to analyze the intersection of Route 96B and Route 79. The federal and state agencies would work with the Tompkins County Truck Safety Committee task force to propose possible safety improvements.
The intersection has had three truck accidents, including the Simeon’s incident, in the past six years. Schumer visited the area, and then during the press conference, he spoke on the importance of The Commons to the City of Ithaca and the threat the intersection posed.
“The fact that such a dangerous intersection leads right into The Commons, the heart of the city where people come to eat, walk, enjoy and experience Ithaca’s unique and vibrant culture, makes it all the more troubling,” he said.
On June 20, 2014, a tractor-trailer carrying a load of cars crashed into Simeon’s restaurant, located on the corner of The Commons, while attempting to make a right-hand turn onto North Aurora Street. Amanda Bush, a 27-year-old Simeon’s bartender from Lansing, New York, was killed and seven people were injured.
The two other accidents at the intersection involved a dump truck overturning and gliding into a building on Route 79 in September 2010 and another in which a truck lost control of its breaks. Schumer called these two incidents “extremely close calls,” as there were no fatalities that resulted.
“Fortunately in those two, no fatalities occurred, but as we learned in June, we can’t always be that lucky,” Schumer said. “Truck accidents at this intersection are a persistent problem, and we know as sure as we’re here, they’ll continue.”
Attendees of the press conference were given a copy of Schumer’s letter to the Federal Highway Administration, in which he highlighted the work of the Tompkins County Truck Safety Committee and urged the FHWA to provide the technical support necessary to identify solutions to making the intersection safer.
“I would urge that any potential hazard mitigation recommendations produced by this road safety audit be given a high priority for federal highway funding so that improvements can begin as soon as possible,” Schumer wrote in the letter.
The federal officials involved in the audit will work with local officials to determine what policies should be implemented, Schumer said.
Local officials who have a better understanding of the Ithaca area will collaborate with the federal officials who have the funds and resources to put the safety changes in place.
“The feds are really good at this stuff,” Schumer said. “I have faith in them.”
Joining Schumer were Mayor Svante Myrick; Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton; Mike Lane, chair of the Tompkins County Legislature; and Fernando de Aragon, executive director of the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council.
Myrick thanked Schumer for his continued support of the Ithaca area. He cited Schumer’s advocacy in the past, which allowed the City of Ithaca to secure federal funds to help rebuild The Commons and purchase new buses, as demonstrations of the senator’s commitment to Ithaca.
“While we were looking for a federal partner, we could not have asked for a better one,” Myrick said. “Sen. Schumer and his staff have taken the initiative to get in touch with us and to come here. To pledge his support means we are in very good hands.”
Lane said the Senator is “no stranger to Tompkins County,” as he comes here regularly to address local issues.
“It certainly is reassuring when our state and federal officials take an interest at this level of government to try to help,” Lane said. “It is what they are there for.”