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Suffolk County Tunes In to Highway Traffic Issue

Thu, 09/07/2023 - 10:27
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, second from left, was joined by local and county officials and police personnel in announcing a comprehensive new study that seeks solutions to the pervasive traffic problem on the South Fork.
Christine Sampson

Suffolk County is acknowledging there’s a traffic problem on County Road 39 — “the highway” that runs from Shinnecock Hills to Water Mill and transitions to Montauk Highway farther east — and is seeking innovative ideas for ways to solve that problem from civil engineers, commuters, community members, and other stakeholders.

“All of the beauty that draws people here . . . also creates significant challenges,” said County Executive Steve Bellone in announcing last Thursday that Suffolk has put out an official request for proposals “for one of the largest traffic analyses and studies that the county has undertaken.”

All options are on the table, said Mr. Bellone, who was joined in the announcement by Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, Sarah Lansdale, the commissioner of the county’s Department of Economic Development and Planning, Alex Prego of the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, Southampton Village Mayor Bill Manger, and law enforcement officials from Southampton Town and Village.

This will be a “deep dive into the larger issues,” Mr. Bellone said, such as the local housing market, public transportation, and environmental concerns.

Could a flexible lane be established, allowing more rush-hour room for cars, trucks, and buses during the morning and afternoon commutes? Could the blinking-traffic-light pilot program return in some form? Could the Metropolitan Transportation Authority finally add sidings to the single railroad track running through the South Fork, allowing more commuter trains to be scheduled? What about roundabouts at problem intersections?

Mr. Bellone, who is term-limited and cannot run for re-election in November, said the county understands that there will be a significant financial investment for this initiative. “The county has a huge stake,” he said. “This isn’t something that should be borne by local officials. The county needs to be a financial partner, and be willing and ready” to pay up.

To anyone who would suggest it’s too expensive, “I would say, ‘What is the cost of not making significant improvements on the East End?’ “ he said.

The timing of the announcement on the Thursday before Labor Day was humorous to some, especially when Mr. Bellone arrived 20 minutes late, partly due, he said, to the traffic. The press conference took place in the street at the Southampton Village train station, which snarled pickup and drop-off traffic when a train arrived.

“The infrastructure out here wasn’t made for the volume” of traffic on the roads, Mr. Schneiderman said when he stepped up to the podium. “This is a popular area and it’s been growing, and along with that, there are complexities.”

He recalled the widening of County Road 39 about 15 years ago that made a huge difference. “I’ve always opposed an extra lane in Water Mill, but now I think it’s got to be on the table,” he said.

Mr. Manger pointed out that GPS devices and mobile apps like Waze “are sending cars onto small, narrow residential streets in the village. . . . Residents are telling me they cannot exit their driveways. It’s affecting people’s lives — we need to find a solution.”

The discussion will “100 percent” involve East Hampton Town, Mr. Bellone said in response to a reporter’s question, even though County Road 39 doesn’t extend that far east. “We talk about the important value this beautiful place brings, and East Hampton is a major part of that equation.”

He said he will need the “impacts and insights” that East Hampton has to offer in this process. “Absolutely, East Hampton will be a crucial part,” he said.

 

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