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Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike Redo Ahead

Thu, 06/20/2024 - 07:17

Curbs emerge as sticking point in next phase of county renovation plan

Yamini Oza and Nina McLean shared their experiences of growing up and living on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, and Bill Hillman listened to how a proposed project and sidewalk would change their lives.
Denis Hartnett

“It’s the field of dreams. If you build it, they’ll come,” said Bill Hillman during a contentious public meeting on Monday concerning a plan for reconstructing part of the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike. Mr. Hillman, the chief engineer of highway construction for the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, fielded questions at the South Fork Natural History Museum about lanes, sidewalks, curbs, and everything in between.

The plan, which tackles the northern end of the turnpike, between Brick Kiln Road and Scuttlehole Road, was detailed by Elizabeth Torres, a senior civil engineer at the county’s Department of Public Works. She explained that the project is “all-encompassing” and estimated to cost $14.5 million — similar to the amount of money Suffolk is planning to invest on another county thoroughfare to the east, Three Mile Harbor Road.

The Public Works Department has three main objectives for the turnpike: repairing the pavement of the road itself, including asphalt resurfacing; repairing and adding new drainage systems to improve the flooding conditions, and improving pedestrian safety — which Ms. Torres described as the chief priority. This would include expanding the shoulder and building a new sidewalk and curb. Construction is slated to begin in mid-2026 and is projected to be done by summer 2027.

Under this plan the turnpike would be transformed to include, on both sides, a five-foot sidewalk, three-foot utility strip, a one-foot traversable curb or sloped asphalt curb, and a five-foot shoulder that would also serve as a bike lane. “We’re going to narrow the lanes and the shoulders a little bit to make room for the sidewalks,” Ms. Torres said.

The most controversial parts of the construction plan, if the community comments were any indication, appeared to be the curb and the retaining walls that may be needed. Ms. Torres pointed out how the planned curb would accommodate wildlife crossing the road. It will be “traversable,” she said. “It has a gentle slope starting at the top of the pavement, which allows the small animals, such as amphibians and turtles, to easily and safely escape the roadway.”

Kathleen Mulcahy, executive director of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Refuge in Hampton Bays, voiced a major concern that many shared: the threat curbs pose to the area’s wildlife. In May last year, she said, the rescue center had five turtles come in, but this year it had 30. These turtles do not exclusively come from the turnpike area, she said, but many do because the turnpike bisects the Long Pond Greenbelt.

Ms. Mulcahy stressed that having to navigate a curb as well as retaining walls could further hinder an animal’s ability to cross to the other side of the greenbelt safely, leaving them at risk of getting hit by cars. She requested that curbs be “as small as possible” and “as infrequent as possible. It’s really key because they are an endangered species and we have to save them.”

“We have a slope, and we’re now going to chomp into that slope and put a sidewalk in there,” Mr. Hillman said, referring to an image from the presentation, “so if the homeowner where this retaining wall is going be, if they allow us to come in and grade that out, and we may have to reduce some trees to do that . . . that would eliminate walls.”

Over all, the project found two of its biggest supporters in the two youngest turnpike residents in the room. As children living in the area near it, Yamini Oza and Nina McLean emphasized how important a sidewalk would be for them. “Sometimes I feel like I’m on an isolated island,” Yamini said. “I’m not allowed to walk to my friend’s house, I’m not allowed to walk to school on my own, and I’m not allowed to go to town, and I can’t walk to the park.”

Nina followed up with her own feelings about how a sidewalk could effect change. “It would be much safer for everyone,” she said, “so that they don’t have to be scared of a car hitting them.”

Although both of their mothers were also in attendance, Nina said, “our parents did not make us write this essay.”

Dai Dayton, president of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, said by phone two days after the meeting that her concerns were not assuaged. She plans to keep advocating for the wildlife in the area as well as people who will be using the sidewalks.

County officials “have it in their head that there are certain areas where wildlife cross,” she said. “They have to consider anywhere between the wetlands they have to cross.”

Mr. Hillman encouraged people with questions or comments to send them in an email to [email protected].

 

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