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Circling a Roundabout in East Hampton

Thu, 06/06/2024 - 12:58
The plan calls for something that looks more like a traffic oval than a traffic circle, with a large, landscaped area in the middle that would be filled with deer-resistant “low maintenance evergreen perennials and evergreen shrubs.”
L.K. McLean Associates

One thing was clear in a discussion at an East Hampton Town Board meeting about a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Stephen Hand’s Path, Long Lane, and Two Holes of Water Road: No one wants East Hampton to look like western Suffolk. 

After two members of the public spoke against the proposal at the May 21 meeting, the board agreed to listen to more feedback and have the planning department discuss the environmental impact at Tuesday’s meeting. 

The plan calls for something that looks more like a traffic oval than a traffic circle, with a large, landscaped area in the middle that would be filled with deer-resistant “low maintenance evergreen perennials and evergreen shrubs.” Around that would be a “truck apron” made of gray cobblestone; the oval would accommodate a 46-foot tractortrailer. Each approach to the intersection would include a raised island, paved with granite, to help guide cars to the single lane oval. 

Drainage inlets would tie into the recently installed drainage project along Stephen Hand’s Path. Adjacent to Long Lane, in the northeast corner of the intersection, a berm and bioswale, planted with native wildflowers and grasses, would theoretically contain runoff from large rain events. The project, designed by L.K. McLean Associates, was previously discussed in October 2023. Cost was not discussed at the work session, but David Buda, a town resident, had called into the May meeting complaining that $1.5 million was too much for the town to spend before trying the simpler solution of adding two more stop signs. 

“It gives priority and precedence to cars without any thought of pedestrians or cyclists,” said Jeff Bragman, an attorney and former town board member. He faulted the town board for commissioning a plan without first conducting a traffic study or examining accident statistics. “You twice rejected recommendations of the highway superintendent to just put two more stop signs there, and turn it into a four-way stop.” He criticized the design, as well. “The template was taken from a design for Coram. I don’t really think that Coram should set the tone for what we do in East Hampton.” 

Further, the “flock of signs” required to guide drivers to the oval would be incongruous on Long Lane, which is in a state area of scenic significance, and had cost the town and county $118 million to preserve. “You should not be in the business of expediting a cut-through on a scenic lane,” he concluded. 

“It would be a disaster to have a roundabout,” said Rona Klopman, calling into the meeting. Like Mr. Buda, she suggested the town try a lower-cost solution first. “Go down to Sagaponack and see these lovely little speedbumps. 

In Riverhead the roundabouts are horrific. We don’t want East Hampton to be like Riverhead.” 

Kevin Cobb, a project inspector in the town’s Highway Department, countered the assertion made by Mr. Bragman that Stephen Lynch, the highway superintendent, didn’t support the current project. “Mr. Lynch’s suggestion of adding two stop signs was an alternative, but at this point, we support the roundabout as a safer and less congested option,” he said. 

Tyler Borsack, an environmental analyst in the town Planning Department, went through the environmental assessment form, which is a component of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act. The Planning Department said the project would have minimal environmental impact, but Mr. Borsack detailed the reasoning. 

The intersection is over a special groundwater protection area, but because its design mitigated flooding concerns, with a berm, bioswale, catchment basins, and connected to the new drainage system, he was confident “there shouldn’t be any issues with groundwater.” While the northern long-eared bat may be in the area, only a single tree would be removed during construction, and not during the roosting period. 

About the scenic impact, Mr. Borsack said there would be little, because the roundabout was below grade. “The Hardscrabble scenic area was established to protect farmland views and rural character. We didn’t feel it had any impact on those protected features.” As part of the SEQRA laws the town had considered the alternatives, a traffic light or stop signs, but concluded that “a traffic circle is a far more efficient way,” to handle the traffic flow. The roads are heavily traveled all year, and more so in the summer as people seek ways around congestion on Route 114 and Montauk Highway. The board supported the proposal. 

Councilwoman Cate Rogers compared the intersection to one at the entrance to East Hampton Village, close to the end of Route 114, that is now served by a traffic circle successfully, in her view. While Councilman David Lys, addressing Mr. Bragman’s criticisms about pedestrian and cyclist safety, said there would be more room for them in the roundabout than exists currently. “The pavement in this design is double the size that is already on the travel lane. This was done to give a greater area of safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.” 

Councilman Ian Calder-Piedmonte, who is a co-owner of Balsam Farms, which works land adjacent to the intersection, admitted he had been concerned about access for tractor-trailers, but was now comfortable with the project. “I use this intersection all the time. Anyone who does has to notice there is a danger. I’m happy we gave this another minute.” 

The board could vote to approve the project as soon as tonight. 

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