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Long IslandSuffolk

Scenic Taconic Parkway can be 'nasty road'

It was first proposed as an extension of the Bronx River Parkway back in 1922. So long ago, that planning committee member Franklin D. Roosevelt was merely a budding politician.

Designed as "a limited-access pleasure drive through a landscaped corridor," according to The Encyclopedia of New York State, the Taconic State Parkway was meant to be a scenic drive.

Photos: Latest from the fatal Taconic Crash and reaction

Yet, despite attempts to modernize it, the Taconic is "a tough road . . . a nasty road" that can be as treacherous as it is beautiful, a traffic safety expert said.

On Sunday afternoon, the Taconic was the scene of a horrific wrong-way accident involving a Long Island mother, her kids and her nieces. The crash in Mount Pleasant, about 15 miles north of New York City left eight dead, four of them children.

"It's a very easy road to get confused on," AAA Auto Club of New York spokesman Robert Sinclair said Monday. "It's a very easy road to get into trouble on . . . It's an old road. It's inherent flaws and deficiencies render it a road that challenges one's driving abilities - and vehicle capabilities."

Those flaws, Sinclair said, include outdated geometry, a twisting, winding roadbed that is narrow, with blind curves, two-directional traffic separated in spots by just a guardrail or a narrow median, and scores of at-grade intersections.

Not to mention, Sinclair said, sometimes confusing entrance and exit ramp layouts.

New York State Police said the tragic crash Sunday occurred after Diane Schuler, 36, of West Babylon, driving a Ford Windstar minivan back from a weekend camping trip with five children in the car, got onto the parkway headed in the wrong direction at Pleasantville Road - about 1.7 miles north of the crash scene.

Schuler got onto the northbound parkway headed south via an exit ramp, police said. As viewed on Google Earth, that ramp is a simple, single-lane asphalt road that ends in a T intersection with Pleasantville Road, a narrow, two-lane, tree-lined country path.

The Encyclopedia of New York State said about 65,000 vehicles per day access the parkway through Westchester, while about 25,000 use it in Putnam County and southern Dutchess County, while just 10,000 vehicles use the road daily north of I-84.

By comparison, more than 100,000 cars use the Long Island Expressway and more than 100,000 use the Southern State Parkway daily through Nassau County, according to the New York State Department of Transportation.

The NYSDOT, which operates the Taconic, said only a limited number of safety statistics were available Monday. A spokeswoman said there were 6,418 accidents on the 105-mile-long Taconic between 2004 and 2008 - resulting in 18 fatalities. No statistics were immediately available for 2009.

In the area one mile to the north and one mile to the south of Pleasantville Road, NYSDOT spokeswoman Allison Ackerman said, there were 176 accidents resulting in 45 bodily injuries between 2004 and 2008 - though no one was killed in the area during that time, Ackerman said.

Though proposed in 1922 and begun in 1925 the road was not completed until 1963.

In fact, the final leg of the Taconic was scheduled to be opened in a ceremony on Nov. 25, 1963 - a ceremony postponed following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy three days earlier.

Still, in recent years, the Taconic has undergone many safety improvements, according to the NYSDOT.

The Encyclopedia of New York State said "in the 21st century the parkway is a busy commuter highway," noting: "To improve safety the state Department of Transportation began closing numerous grade crossings in 2001."

Still Sinclair said the road can often be a monster for even the best drivers, and when he was planning a recent leisure drive to upstate Rhinebeck he considered driving the Taconic but instead opted to drive the less-scenic New York State Thruway - all because of safety concerns.

"I debated taking the Taconic," Sinclair said. "But, in the end, I elected to take the Thruway instead, even though the Taconic is much more scenic. In the end, I avoided the road because of its inherent safety deficiencies . . . And this was just two weeks ago."

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