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Route 420 closure frustrates Massena officials

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MASSENA - The unexpected closure of state Route 420 late yesterday afternoon had village officials and emergency responders seeking answers at Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting.

Upgrades to the CSX rail crossing at Route 420 began earlier this week. Work is scheduled to last through Friday, DOT Region 7 spokesman Michael R. Flick previously said. CSX officials said the rail company will replace the existing crossing, making for a smoother ride for Route 420 motorists.

The detour requires southbound motorists on Route 420 to turn right onto Cook Street, then left onto Wells Street, a block west of the roadwork. Cars are then routed back onto Route 420 near the front of the vacant Murphy’s Farm & Garden Supply building.

Northbound motorists are rerouted directly around the construction site. The detour will be in place 24 hours a day until the work wraps up.

But the detour was closed late on Tuesday because of the construction, according to Trustee Francis J. Carvel. He called the rail construction site “unbelievable;” the detour closure added 16 additional miles and 30 minutes onto his trip downtown Tuesday to Massena Town Hall.

The closure did not offer motorists alternative instructions on where to go, he said.

“It was like chickens with their heads cut off. People had no idea where they were going,” Mr. Carvel said. “It’s the biggest circus I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”

The detour was reopened by Tuesday night. Fire Driver in Charge Ken McGowan said the Massena Fire Department had been notified of a planned brief shutdown of 420 at midday Tuesday, but was caught off guard by the closure later that afternoon.

Route 420 has the only bridge in the village which crosses the Raquette River, and Mayor James F. Hidy wondered at Tuesday’s meeting how that road’s closure affected fire protection south of the river.

Volunteer Fire Department Chief Thomas C. Miller echoed a similar sentiment. The fire department did not have any calls on that side of the village Tuesday afternoon, but needs to know in advance of any impending closures, he said.

“That’s a large concern. We were told that would not be closed except for 20 minutes to a half an hour at noon,” he said. “If this is going to drag on, it is a huge issue.”

Mr. Miller and Police Chief Timmy J. Currier plan to investigate Tuesday afternoon’s closure today. If more road closures are planned, Mr. Miller said he would arrange for mutual aid from surrounding fire departments to ensure that area of the village has adequate protection.

Mr. Carvel called the project a “big waste of taxpayer money” and wondered why CSX couldn’t handle more of the project instead of the DOT. He also wondered whether a similar project would require a total traffic shutdown in other communities, and if Massena received unfair treatment.

“Would they allow the same thing to happen in Utica? Would they allow it on Route 37 going into Watertown?” he asked. “It’s just beyond belief for a project to be run this way.”

Mr. Flick could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

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