Saturday February 23, 2013

On the afternoon of Feb. 13 a truckdriver narrowly escaped the burning wreckage of the gas tanker he crashed on a particularly accident-prone stretch of Route 7 in Hoosick, N.Y.

Shawn Disley, 34, of Agawam, Mass., who suffered second-degree burns from the fire that eventually consumed his rig, was miraculously able to walk away from the accident.

Disley's truck had struck a pole and careened down an embankment, settling roughly 30 feet below the roadway. The 9,500 gallons of gasoline he had been hauling either burned or presumably seeped into the ground and nearby Hoosic River.

The remote, wooded section of Route 7 was closed for several hours as firefighters battled the flames of the truck and crews repaired power lines.

This was the second crash of a tanker filled with highly combustible fuel in that same spot within two years.

In March 2011 an accident involving a tanker carrying a load of 19,500 gallons of liquid propane at the very same spot on Route 7 resulted in an even more disastrous fire, which was extremely difficult to quench. Residents and businesses within a mile radius were evacuated, and Route 7 had to be shut down for two days.

These accidents and others that occurred there over the years prompted Rensselaer County legislators to renew efforts to complete a safety review of the Hoosick portion of Route 7.

A similar review conducted by the New York Department of Transportation just two years ago found the road signage -- which includes Chevron signs and reflective arrow markers -- on that portion of the route were adequate.


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Over the past four years, state officials have recorded 171 accidents on Route 7 between Babcock Lake Road and Route 22.

Of those, 17 involved trucks and, amazingly, none were fatal.

Bryan Viggiani, a Capital Region representative for the New York DOT, told the Banner Friday that the accident rate along that stretch of road is 1.68 per million vehicle miles, which falls below the statewide rate of 2.57 for two-lane rural highways.

District 5 legislators Stan Brownell and Lester Goodermote said earlier this week in a press release that the state should conduct a safety review of Route 7 in Hoosick to prevent future accidents.

"Given the frequency and seriousness of these accidents, we are concerned about the safety of those who regularly travel or live on and near State Route 7," said Goodermote, who noted a safety review of lighting, speed conditions, visibility and signs on the stretch could help identify ways to improve safety and travel along the corridor.

Officials plan to consider a third resolution (following reviews of this particular stretch of Route 7 in 2008 and 2011) next month. If that resolution is successful, it will be sent on to the New York DOT, governor's office, and local legislators.

The two tanker crashes alone should warrant another look at this beleaguered stretch of a well-traveled highway. Loaded tractor-trailers take 20-40 percent farther than cars to stop, and the discrepancy is greater on wet and slippery roads or with poorly maintained brakes, according to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

Before another fuel tanker ends up in flames, its poisonous contents leaking into the Hoosic, a closer look at this porton of the well-traveled route is needed.

~Michelle Karas