By Kitty Merrill
Last summer, it seemed like every week a serious accident on South Fork roads resulted in injured drivers or pedestrians, plus traffic backed up for miles and roads closed for hours. With just one major artery to The Hamptons, travel could be hellacious, with hours-long delays as emergency responders tended to the scene.
The situation prompted Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Senator Ken LaValle last October to convene a roundtable discussion with the goal of addressing South Fork Highway Safety.
This week, the pair released a final recommendations report, outlining projects and initiatives to make South Fork roads safer for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
Since the initial meeting, the roundtable's three workgroups -- engineering, education and enforcement -- have been meeting to discuss new plans, policies, and programs that should be instituted. Participants have included roadway engineers and safety officers, police, emergency responders, educators, and elected officials.
According to a release heralding the report, "Since last summer, significant progress has been made in addressing the deteriorating condition of Montauk Highway, increasing penalties for distracted driving, and improving public transit ridership and service." However, the lawmakers say, more must be done including installing red light cameras, lowering speed limits, implementing multi-jurisdictional enforcement actions, implementing communication and notification plans, and initiating driving safety education programming.
Even with the improvements, accidents this summer continue to occur, and, like the fatal head-on collision on July 25 that closed County Road 39 for nine hours, result in exceptionally snarled and delayed traffic. Anecdotal reports saw the ride from Southampton to East Hampton taking as many as three hours that day.
"While we have come a long way in just the past year, the closure of County Road 39 for nearly an entire business day highlights the need for this roundtable to reconvene again this fall," said Thiele.
The South Fork Highway Safety Roundtable will reconvene after Labor Day.