Litigation halts roundabout project

Around and around

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford. The intersection of Routes 20 and 60 in Fredonia is seen from the parking lot of the nearby McDonald's restaurant Thursday morning. The state Department of Transportation is supposed to construct a roundabout at the intersection, but the owner of McDonald's has sued to halt the project.

The plans for a roundabout at Routes 20 and 60 are in jeopardy.

Litigation has apparently halted the bidding process on the project for now. Enrico Francani, owner of the McDonald’s restaurant near the intersection, sued the state Department of Transportation over the project. He thinks a roundabout in the intersection would seriously decrease his number of customers because it would make it hard for drivers to get to the restaurant.

“The current DOT plans involve a two lane circle which is unprecedented in Western New York and unique by nature,” said Alan Bozer, a Phillips Lytle LLP attorney representing Francani. “They’re placing it at a heavily trafficked intersection that has pedestrians as well as local traffic and quite a bit of commercial traffic. It results in all sorts of economic and safety issues that we allege were not adequately explored by the DOT.”

Bozer confirmed that his firm filed papers on behalf of Francani in state Supreme Court seeking to halt the project. The lawyer said Judge Tracey Bannister of the state Supreme Court’s Erie County branch will hear arguments “from both myself and the DOT on April 3.”

The suit, filed Jan. 22, seeks to stop the roundabout for two main reasons: the DOT’s determination of no adverse environmental effects from the project, including no adverse effects on nearby businesses, is flawed and should be reviewed; and the DOT failed “to engage with the public and community throughout the design process.”

A DOT representative didn’t have much to say recently about the work planned for Routes 20 and 60.

“(The state) DOT will release appropriate project information when we are ready to advertise and let the project,” stated Susan Surdej, regional information officer for the DOT, in a Feb. 11 email in response to an inquiry on the status of the work.

According to the “Projects in your Neighborhood” page on the DOT website ( Routes 20 and 60 project status is “In Development.” Opening of bids is listed as “Winter 2018/19.” Construction of the roundabout is supposed to begin this spring, with the completion date listed as “Winter 2019/2020.”

If construction starts before the April 3 court date, Bozer said, “We have our eyes wide open … we may go to court earlier to get an injunction to stop the work.”

The cost of the project is $3.6 million, funded entirely through state and federal money.

Raised medians would be constructed near the approaches on Route 60 north and Route 20 east and west to eliminate left-hand turns into oncoming traffic. DOT officials think that will curb a high crash rate near the intersection.

However, Bozer sees many problems with the plan.

“This is going to have an economic impact on any business in the area,” he said. “Not to mention the safety concerns — you have high school kids regularly crossing in that area. The new hospital will also increase traffic.”

Bozer added, “We have been trying to talk to DOT about out concerns and to date have had no success.”

Besides the two-lane roundabout, the project would also include new sidewalks and curb ramps, to help the intersection comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Francani’s lawsuit papers allege:

¯ “Petitioners estimate, based on their years of experience, that the median project will cause up to a 40 percent decrease in business at the McDonald’s restaurant.”

¯ The plaintiffs will “face unique harms” because their customers will face unsafe travelling conditions and the landscaping will be very close to the restaurant.

¯ It will be much easier to access other restaurants near the intersection than McDonald’s, a further harm to its business. “DOT has refused the McDonald’s Restaurant’s requests for left turn lanes from New York Route 60 North and U.S. Route 20 East despite granting left turn lanes to Wendy’s and Tim Hortons,” the lawsuit states.

The papers note how Francani and Phillips Lytle initially challenged the project because the state determined no environmental review was necessary. DOT did do such a review after the challenge, and altered its project report, reissuing it in January 2018. But Francani and Phillips Lytle allege the later report “clearly reads as though DOT started with its final design and then worked its way backwards in an attempt to show that that its selected design was best.”

In addition, the final design project determination in September 2018 “is shockingly similar to the 3/17 Report DOT issued and then rescinded, and is nearly identical to the 1/18 Report. … The current Final Report ignores key information in the record and public comments; fails to take a hard look at the Median Project’s impact on community character, public safety, and drainage issues; and fails to provide a reasoned elaboration for its determinations.”