The volume of traffic on the East End is a constant topic of conversation, especially if anything can be done to tame our roadways. For starters, we believe the immediate goal is not making the situation worse. Sadly, local governments and civic groups seem not to see the elephant in the room that is excessive growth.
As early as the 1960s, people had already seen big changes and quite seriously proposed a bypass that would skirt Water Mill and Bridgehampton and go around East Hampton Village and Amagansett. Construction could have gotten underway in 1966, had there been enough public support. Instead, the bypass idea fizzled. By the end of the 1980s, a bypass of Montauk Highway was effectively dead. As one letter writer to The Star put it, “The principal argument advanced by those opposing any form of bypass has been that an improved road would only bring more people to the East End.” He went on to observe what by then was obvious: They were already here.
Those of us old enough to remember the halcyon days of the 1970s and 1980s might find that complaint quaint. Since that time, the population of East Hampton Town alone has tripled, and a daily army of workers’ trucks and delivery vehicles inch east in the mornings, then west in late afternoon. Had the bypass been built, Main Street in Amagansett might have remained more like Sagg Main, a relatively quiet thoroughfare lined with shady trees and lovely older houses. Instead, well, visitors and residents alike know how frustrating and time-gobbling a drive to the grocery store can be in season, for example. Choke points are many, where drivers must navigate roads that were in many cases laid out in the 18th century and unchanged since then except for modern pavement and railroad crossings.
Nearly all new construction projects contribute to traffic problems, both during the building and afterward, with staff and support vehicles. The South Fork appears on the cusp of redevelopment that will create even more mayhem. Plans in the preparation stages for sites in Wainscott, East Hampton Village, and Sag Harbor would be concerning even if the area did not already experience near-constant road congestion. Montauk appears especially vulnerable to upscaling from a wave of corporate investment. Yet in summer, vehicles on Montauk Main Street move at a crawl. The intersection of Hampton, Main, and Bay Streets in Sag Harbor is now an almost impassable mess. Solving problems there and in other locations would require careful coordination and funding strategies, involving the state, towns, and the village. That regulatory web means that nothing will be done to make things better any time soon.
Where the towns and villages can and must act on their own, without waiting for Albany or the Suffolk Legislature, is in tightening land-use restrictions. The situation has become so dire that a moratorium on new building permits should be considered while zoning changes are worked out. At a minimum, elected officials must answer to a public angered by a sense that they are allowing the traffic situation to get more acute with every passing year.