June 28, 2006
Skip Shows Them The Money
In committee last week representatives for the notoriously tightfisted County Executive Steve Levy said he is willing to do the project, if Southampton Town comes up with the cost of enforcement. Political insiders suspected a strategy geared toward shifting responsibility for taking emergency measures to ease traffic congestion on County Road 39 from the county to the town level, the assumption being Southampton Town's budget couldn't carry the freight.
If it was a deflection, it didn't work. This week, Supervisor Skip Heaney said he is committed to providing funding for the extra officers the mitigation measure would require. In fact, he said that when the idea of temporarily reconfiguring the lanes of CR39 was first debuted by Legislator Jay Schneiderman earlier this month, he directed his comptroller to find the money.
Last week the county's public works committee discussed the notion of implementing a design used during the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills two years ago. Using road cones, electric signs, plus staff, lanes would be shifted to provide extra eastbound pathways during the weekday morning rush and all day on Friday. Schneiderman promoted the idea at a press conference held on the median at the Sunrise Highway / County Road 39 merge on June 16.
At committee last week, Ben Zwirn, Levy's liaison to the legislature, revealed the CE's support of a one week trial. However, the deputy repeatedly noted the program could only move forward if Southampton Town picks up the tab for necessary police presence.
Testifying before the committee Buzz Schwenk of the Southampton Business Alliance reiterated the dire situation congestion on CR39 has created. It impacts the school and hospital system, making it difficult to hire staff. They simply aren't willing to add an hour sitting at the Lobster Inn merge to commute, he said, listing myriad other impacts of the traffic travail. While Schwenk acknowledged that the lane shift is not an answer for the long haul, he entreated committee members, that if they pass Schneiderman's bill, "You will be doing all of the East End a tremendous favor."
Public Works Commissioner Charles Bartha noted the lane change plan can be implemented administratively, and that Schneiderman's resolution was not really necessary. He estimated it would cost the county about $7000 per week in salary overtime.
Committee member Legislator Kate Browning (D. Shirley) appeared supportive of the pilot program. She reported that she's received complaints from constituents in her district, which is located in eastern Brookhaven town. Business owners have complained they can't find help willing to make the frustrating commute. "I definitely urge you to do something about this mess," she said to Bartha.
Legislator John Kennedy (R. Nesconset) looked at the problem from a different point of view. He said he was surprised environmental groups haven't been pushing for a solution. Given what emissions from idling cars can do to air quality, he suspects ozone levels at the site are "off the charts."
With assurances that Levy would implement the pilot program administratively, Schneiderman agreed to table his resolution calling for the emergency measure. He warned, "If he doesn't do it, he's going to have an awful lot of people he's got to answer to." Bartha said if Southampton Town provides the police, the pilot project could commence the second week in July.
And the ball was in Heaney's court. He's waiting to hear exactly what the plan is to determine what the cost will be. Heaney has contacted County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco who had made him an offer of assistance with traffic in the past. "I'm looking to take him up on the offer." Heaney has also contacted State Assemblyman Fred Thiele to see if state troopers might help out as well.
Heaney said he is "more than willing" to find funding for Southampton's share of the project cost. He's identified several budget lines that can be drawn from. For example, the supervisor earmarked money to hire a town engineer to study roads and traffic. The position hasn't been filled. At the June 16 press conference Tom Neely town transportation coordinator revealed that each candidate who's made the trip east on County Road 39 has subsequently withdrawn interest in the job.