Taconic State Parkway

Impelled by an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal written by Mary Beth Pfeiffer titled “Deadly Taconic Resists Safety Changes” on March 5, 2000 just three months after the death of her daughter, Jody Morrison worked tirelessly to end the tragic deaths at the 36 treacherous at-grade crossings of the Taconic State Parkway. Within 18 months of her arduous attention, then Governor George Pataki finally allocated $350 million to close all at grade crossing.

Read the article “Deadly Taconic Resists Safety Changes” by Mary Beth Pfeiffer.

See Tim Minton’s NBC award winning news pieces on Jody’s journey to see all at grade crossing on the Taconic State Parkway closed.

Read Jody’s letter to the New York State Department of Transportation that went unanswered by District 8. The letter that started it all…

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DOT Letter

Dept of Transportation Letter

September 5, 2000
Mrs. Joanne Morrison
Mr. Robert A Dennison III
Regional Director
New York State
Department of Transportation
4 Burnett Blvd.
Poughkeepsie, NY 12603

Dear Mr. Dennison,
On January 23, 2000, my 15 year-old daughter Chelsea Lynn was killed at the Hibernia crossing of the Taconic State parkway. On that Sunday afternoon I was hemming a pair of pants for her in my New York City apartment when two policemen came to my door to tell me my daughter was dead. She was a boarding student at Millbrook School and was a passenger in the car of a day student. The two were going to get ingredients for his mothers’ Sunday brunch.

It has taken me more than six months to write to you as my grieving has been so severe, however, recently I have been moved to do whatever I can so that no other mother will ever live through this horrible, yet preventable suffering.

Recently I have spent much time researching the “at-grade” crossings of the Taconic State Parkway.  Your name is on many of the documents, and I believe you should be aware of my efforts.  An article in the Poughkeepsie Journal titled “Deadly Taconic Roads Resist Safety Changes” written by Mary Beth Pfeiffer on Sunday, March 5, 2000 is enclosed.  I have obtained the studies done by the Department of Transportation in 1970 suggesting all at-grade crossings be closed (14 years before my daughter was born).  I have minutes from the Northern Dutchess Alliance meetings from May 27, 1997 through November 17, 1999.  I have personally called the supervisors in the local townships and have been corresponding with those at The Freedom of Information Act and the People for Open Government attempting to obtain the 13 more recent DOT studies of the TSP at-grade crossings to no avail.  Unfortunately, Mr. Dennison, nothing so far has explained to me why District 8 has continued to allow such dangers.  The Poughkeepsie Journal article seems enough proof for anyone.  Every person I have shown it to calls this situation astounding and horrific.

Chelsea’s death has been devastating not only to myself as a single parent, but also to so many more.  She was extremely dear to all who knew her.

My 18-year-old son, her only sibling, cannot begin to recover from his devastation, let alone maintain his honors status at school, participate in sports, prepare for the rigors of applying for college.  He adamantly stands firm on his belief that life is now meaningless.  The two of our lives are filled with grief counselors, medication, tears, nightmares, and deep loneliness for our Dear Sweet Chelsea.

Chelsea’s father, a resident of Florida, is so devastated; most have concluded that his life, for all intents and purposes, is over.

There were more than 950 people at Chelsea’s funeral, most of them young teens who should never have had to be introduced to the experience of death by the loss of one of their most admired contemporaries.  Hardest for me was greeting the mothers who attended the wake, from Chelsea’s nursery School through her boarding school. Their pain and compassion for me was palpable, yet I could see that they were, almost against their will, relieved it was not their child.   “There but for the Grace of God go I” was almost audible.

I am from a family of 10 children.  Chelsea’s father is from a family of 11 children.  Over 30 aunts and uncles, and more than 50 first cousins remain in shock that the first and only tragedy of our huge and blessed family was the untimely death of such a beautiful and kind child.  Cousins continue to see grief counselors; grandparents question the amount of years they have been given, and sisters are almost embarrassed that their own children are well and healthy.

And the person I would hope you consider most closely is the young 17 year old boy who was driving the car, crossing at Hibernia, an at-grade crossing he should have NEVER been expected to negotiate.  Many statistics come to mind, none of which you are unaware; however, the fact that 60% of traffic accidents on the TSP are due to ‘failing to yield to on-coming traffic’ and that this young man received a TICKET for the same both astounds and angers me.

I enclose for you three photos of my Chelsea.  One, when she was just four years old, one with her brother at Salisbury School where she visited to see his play, and the last is Chels on Christmas vacation with her cousin Michael – the last photograph taken of her before her death less that three weeks later.

5_287x202 chelsea_cousin chelsea_tommy_salisbury

Also enclosed are three of over 800 letters I received and answered.  Not only will you learn of the kindness and generosity of my daughter, but the devastation these children are going through.

I know this is a difficult letter to read.  It is difficult to write.  But I want you to know who I am, a little of my beautiful daughter Chelsea, and of my commitment to see EVERY at-grade crossing on the Taconic State Parkway closed.  Immediately.  No scenery could be more beautiful than my daughter, no farmer could produce the joy she brought to all who knew her, and no business could offer the future more productivity than Chelsea’s enthusiastic ability to be part of and contribute to this small earth of ours.

I will begin to do all that I can to end these tragic accidents.  I hope that you understand my concern and dedication to the closing of all at-grade crossings of the Taconic, and hope you will do all that you can.  It is my job as a parent to keep my children safe, and your job as the Commissioner of District 8 to keep your constituents safe.


Joanne Morrison

cc: Joseph Boardman
     NYS Department of Transportation