May 31, 2006

Red Light For Traffic Study Proposal

Almost $100,000 for a traffic study? No way, said the Southold Town Board.

The town board quickly put the brakes on a pricey proposal last week presented by Patrick Cleary, of Northport-based Cleary Consulting, and Nelson & Pope Engineers in regard to an in-depth traffic study focusing on the impacts of the Cross Sound Ferry on area roads.

On May 9, Cleary and Kerri Collins of Nelson & Pope outlined their plans for the study, including traffic counts at intersections, observed speeds, levels of service, vehicle distribution, and gap studies that would determine whether or not traffic signals would help create traffic gaps and control traffic streams and volumes.

Cleary was back before the town board at its work session last week, with a revised proposal for a Cross Sound Ferry Impact Study that would cost the town $94,800.

Data collection alone would cost $40,000 and would feature automatic traffic recorder machines at key locations to track volume.

The board met last Friday to discuss the concept further.

While they agreed with many components of the proposal, board members felt that the price tag was too steep.

"There was a pretty quick consensus reached that the board had no interest in okaying the proposal," said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.

At the meeting, Councilman Tom Wickham introduced the idea of interviewing another consultant.

To that end, he contacted Steven Schneider, a Coram-based former planning director of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council who, Wickham said, has both planning and traffic/transportation experience. Rather than dividing up duties, as would have been the case with Cleary and Nelson & Pope, Wickham said that Schneider might be able to provide all the necessary services at substantially less expense.

Should the board be amenable to the engineer's ideas, said Wickham, Schneider could be ready to begin the traffic analysis by the heavily trafficked July 4 weekend. "I'm quite optimistic," said Wickham.

Russell, however, said that there were other options, including scaling back the study or deciding against the idea altogether.

Also discussed was the scope of the project. Councilman Al Krupski suggested the town might save money by having the firm simply collect the data, but the board agreed it would not be equipped to adequately decipher data.

In addition, Assistant Town Attorney Kieran Corcoran reminded that the reason the town pays for an expert witness is because any legislation that might follow the report could be subject to court challenge.

Wickham said the board should be careful to ensure that the consultant does not focus on mitigation, because that might indicate that there is a way to accommodate ferry traffic.

Russell, disagreed, suggesting that an "objective and genuine" study would have to include a mitigation component.

Southold has been engaged in ongoing litigation with the Cross Sound Ferry as a result of the company's alleged failure to comply with an approved site plan that expired last August 1. The town is seeking an injunction to curtail the CSF's operating service to what it was in 1995, something the CSF said would cause a profound loss of revenue.

Despite the litigation, Russell and the board agreed to reach out to CSF seeking cooperation on a traffic study, and the supervisor recently sent a letter in that regard.

After Friday's meeting, Russell said that he would support a study, but at a cost of approximately $50,000, provided it was broad enough to take into account the traffic town wide and offer insight on how to deal with it so there would be a town wide benefit.

The meeting was attended by members of the Southold Citizens for Safe Roads, a group that has come before the board to insist that a study is crucial.

Freddie Wachsberger, president of the organization, appeared at a work session recently and urged the board to undertake a comprehensive traffic study. She stressed the need to establish limits on ferry service, including the number of cars on boats, hours of operation, and the number of ferry runs, much like the stand recently taken against ferry service in East Hampton.

Wachsberger emphasized that the organization's goal was not to shut down the ferry. But she voiced concern over an application filed by CSF with the Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals for a parking plan that would bring 450 additional cars to the site and suggested expansion at other sites. 

CSF filed an application to the ZBA on February 23 requesting a special permit to park cars on the two parcels of land that "Cross Sound has owned for over a decade or more," said Stan Mickus, CSF director of marketing. The land is directly adjacent to the existing snack bar parking lot, "used for ferry parking for over 50 years, long before Cross Sound owned the Orient Ferry," he said.

Schneider is expected to attend the board's next work session on Tuesday to present his new proposal for a traffic study.

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