NY State Lawmakers Call for I-84 Crash Gate Following Fatal Bus Accident

NY State Lawmakers Call for I-84 Crash Gate Following Fatal Bus Accident
(L–R) New York state Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, Sen. James Skoufis, Slate Hill Fire Department Chief Michael Dally, and Town of Wawayanda Supervisor Denise Quinn at a press conference in Slate Hill, N.Y., on Sept. 25, 2023. (Courtesy of Sen. James Skoufis's Office)
Cara Ding

New York lawmakers renewed a bipartisan call on Sept. 25 for a new "crash gate" along the Interstate 84 section in the Town of Wawayanda, where a recent bus wreck claimed two lives and injured dozens.

The long-sought crash gate, which is a special access, nonpublic road, will cut emergency response time in that area by up to 10 minutes.

“Every single second counts for our first responders to get to those accidents,” state Sen. James Skoufis, a Democrat, said at a press conference. “We are calling on the full powers of the state, the governor’s office, and the Department of Transportation to get behind this.”

“We are advocates for our residents. We are advocates for our first responders,” Republican state Assemblyman and Minority Whip Karl Brabenec said. “This is how they save lives. We are going to help them. We are proud to help them. Again, thank them for their service.”

Both lawmakers represented the portion of highway section in the Town of Wawayanda where a bus carrying Farmingdale High School's marching band veered off the interstate highway and flipped over several times down the ravine on Sept. 21.

The fatal accident killed the Long Island high school’s band director, Gina Pellettiere, and a retired teacher, Beatrice Ferrari; several dozen students were injured, five critically, but they've since recovered to less critical conditions, according to a Sept. 26 statement by state police.

Lisa Schaffer, 59, from Centereach, New York, was identified as the bus driver.

 Emergency responders work at the scene of a fatal bus crash in Wawayanda, N.Y., on Sept. 21, 2023. (NBC New York via AP)
Emergency responders work at the scene of a fatal bus crash in Wawayanda, N.Y., on Sept. 21, 2023. (NBC New York via AP)
“It is impossible for me to determine how the outcome of last week’s horrific accident would have changed [if we had a crash gate],” Slate Hill Fire Department Chief Michael Dally said. “But I can confidently say that each and every minute is crucial. The first hour after the occurrence of a traumatic injury is known as the golden hour; it is considered the most critical for successful emergency treatment.”

'A Tool for Everyone'

The fire department responds to an average of 35 accidents on Interstate 84 every year, Mr. Dally said.

Currently, Slate Hill firefighters must travel eastward from the firehouse to a highway entrance in a nearby fire district—a trip that takes about 10 minutes—to gain access; once on Interstate 84, they travel for up to about seven minutes to get to any emergency scene.

Crash gates allow first responders to reach an accident without having to drive to the next exit ramp. In this case, it would cut response time by five to 10 minutes, according to Mr. Dally.

“This is a tool for everyone,” he said. “This could be a tool for New York State Police. This could be a tool for local emergency medical services.”

“Our first responders did an incredible job on Thursday,” Town of Wawayanda Supervisor Denise Quinn said at the press conference. “I want to thank the senator and the assemblyman for working so quickly to take up this cause. We are very lucky to have them representing us.”

The calls for a crash gate on Interstate 84 within the Slate Hill Fire District started about 20 years ago. Since then, the jurisdiction over that highway section has been swapped multiple times among several state agencies and now falls under the Department of Transportation, according to Mr. Skoufis.

Before a crash gate can be constructed, the state Department of Transportation must get the approval of the Federal Highway Administration, which oversees new points of access on the Interstate Highway System as a precondition for federal funding.

“We all know what federal bureaucracy looks like. It is going to require the governor’s office and Department of Transportation to really get behind us in a meaningful way, publicly and privately, and press our federal counterparts to expedite this,” Mr. Skoufis said.

As for funding, the senator said he hoped to tap the current Department of Transportation budget; if not, he and other lawmakers would push to get it included in next year’s state budget.

He noted that he might seek Long Island lawmakers’ support in budget negotiations.

An old estimate in 2009 suggested that such a gate would have cost about $200,000.

The state police are still investigating the recent bus crash and ask anyone who witnessed the crash or the bus before the crash to contact its Troop F Headquarters at 845-344-5300; they also ask anyone who has dash camera videos that may have recorded the incident to contact them.