UTICA — On April 11, the Utica City Council voted 5-1 to block traffic from traveling northbound on Brownell Street from Auburn Road, effective April 17.
Mayor Thom Dionne said the city has struggled recently with traffic cutting through the downtown area to avoid the Hall Road congestion that is due to the M-59 reconstruction project.
“There’s an exceptional amount of traffic on Auburn Road, and so we’re going to make an attempt to divert some of that traffic,” Dionne said. “I think the majority of people that come through our little town and snake their way on Brownell, through Summers (Street) and make a dangerous, precarious left onto Cass (Avenue) are probably not residents, but rather folks commuting through.”
He said the city would install a “no left turn” sign on Auburn Road at Brownell to restrict traffic heading eastbound on Auburn Road from turning north onto Brownell. Southbound traffic on Brownell, he said, would still be allowed.
City Councilman Chuck Cuddington cast the single nay vote. He said he is “100 percent against it.”
“You are going to cause a real bottleneck, and people are going to get angry. People have been doing this for years, and now to change it in such a short period of time,” Cuddington said. “I myself use that too, and I’m sure all the residents who live on Cass or Brownell do the same thing.”
Dionne said the intent is to persuade people not to use the downtown area as a thoroughfare, but rather to come downtown to shop, visit and “be a resident.”
“The people that are transient should be using Hall Road and Van Dyke as intended, because our little downtown is suffering already,” he said. “We can certainly undo this if it becomes unpopular.”
Mayor Pro Tem Ken Sikora agreed that making a left turn from Summers Street onto Cass Avenue is a dangerous situation due to limited visibility.
Councilman William Osladil said he wants to take a larger look at regional traffic issues, such as frequent backups that block lanes of Hall Road near Van Dyke Avenue and ramps to M-53.
“It’s a huge problem, and it’s impacting Utica,” Osladil said. “Shutting off our little drip-drip-drip here isn’t going to make a lot of difference to what’s going on around us regionally. Traffic is a nightmare.”
Utica Department of Public Works Superintendent Bill Lang said the traffic order would create through traffic in other areas of the city, and the city would have to decide how to handle those areas.
“During that high-traffic time when the cut-through traffic is there, it literally lines up from Cass all the way to Auburn in a solid L-shaped line,” Lang said. “For the Fire Department, it can be very challenging getting out of the new driveway onto Summers.”
Councilwoman Faith Terenzi said she is in favor of the new traffic order.
“Frequently, when I’m coming down Brownell, (drivers) coming left off of Auburn (to get to Summers) don’t realize I’m coming. It’s a two-lane street, and they might be in the middle,” Terenzi said. “It’s a very dangerous corner. For myself, how many times have I hit the curb, because you have to turn sharp. It’s just not a good turn.”
Dionne said there is no good solution.
“If we could pick the city up, spread it out a little bit and give us some room, to that effect, we’d be in a better position, but we’re working, unfortunately, with what we have,” Dionne said. “We’re going to try to make it work.”
Councilman Frank Czapski was absent from the meeting.
For more information, call Utica City Hall at (586) 739-1600.