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Cornell to study garbage truck traffic in Tompkins County

Every day, hundreds of 18-wheel garbage-transfer trucks from New York City and other large cities carry garbage to the Seneca Meadows Landfill in Waterloo, N.Y. To save tolls and time, and to bypass safety and weight inspections, scores of the trucks leave interstate highways each day to use two-lane roads in Tompkins County.

"These roads and routes were never intended for this type of heavy-duty, steady flow of truck traffic," said Pam Mackesey, a Tompkins County legislator and member of the Upstate Citizens Safety Task Force, a group that has asked for assistance from the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA).

CIPA will conduct a research study on the impact of heavy trucks transporting garbage along New York State Route 89, which runs north-south along the western shore of Cayuga Lake, focusing specifically on the stretch between Taughannock Falls State Park and Cass Park.

The project will be overseen by Linda Haas Manley, program coordinator for CIPA's Public Service Exchange, a service-learning partnership for nonprofit and government agencies.

Cornell graduate students enrolled in two city and regional planning courses -- Quantitative Techniques for Policy Analysis and Program Management, taught by CIPA Director David Lewis, and Approaches to Consulting, Research, Evaluation and Program Development, taught by Haas Manley -- will conduct the study.

"Many small studies have been conducted in the region and the state, and data have been collected by citizens and municipalities for years," said Manley. "But this information hasn't been pulled together or compiled and analyzed."

She added: "Through primary and secondary research, students will examine the impact of truck traffic on citizens from a local, regional and possibly state perspective, depending on what the students find."

While methodology is still being clarified, the students will serve as the consultants, and CIPA will administer a short survey and conduct focus groups in February and March. The data will then be compared to already existing data. Members of the Upstate Citizens Safety Task Force met with CIPA in the early fall to investigate the research possibilities.

"Cornell's study will help to define the life-safety impact of these garbage trucks to Cass Park, Taughannock Falls State Park and the related segments of Route 89," said Mackesey. "This information will be very helpful in the effort of our local and state politicians to get these garbage trucks back on the interstate highways."

Garbage truck traffic is a hot news item lately, but many New York residents claim the problem has worsened over the last 15 years. New York State Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) is supporting efforts to limit truck traffic on local roads, citing safety, noise, fumes and road damage as main concerns.

The CIPA research effort will begin in early February and conclude in early May, when the results and recommendations will be presented to the task force.

For more information about the upcoming study and focus groups, contact Haas Manley at

Lisa Jervey Lennox is assistant director for external affairs at CIPA.

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