July 05, 2006

Dangerous Intersection Addressed

East End Legislator Ed Romaine stepped up to the proverbial plate recently to ensure public safety in Southold.

Romaine appeared before the Southold Town Board at its June 20 work session to discuss a deadly situation he's determined to rectify. The focus of the discussion was a dangerous intersection on Westphalia Road and County Road 48 in Mattituck, which has been the scene of over 50 accidents in the last six years.

"Almost weekly, you hear screeching tires," said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.

The supervisor gets many calls from residents asking, "What are you going to do about this?'"

To that end, Russell said he asked Romaine to speak directly to the board.

The Suffolk County Department of Public Works is currently conducting a traffic study of the area, and has recommended a three-color traffic signal. The need for fast action is dire, said Romaine, who wants to work with the town toward a solution.

The legislator said that while a roundabout might be installed at the intersection, it would "take time, engineering, and money" and would not be a reality for another three to five years: "Public safety is in jeopardy."

After the work session, Romaine introduced a resolution to appropriate funding for the installation of a traffic light. The resolution will go to the Public Works Committee, of which Romaine is a member, on August 1. The next step would be a vote before the full Legislature on August 8.

The cost of a traffic signal for the intersection would be between $125,000 and $150,000.

Because there is currently "a separation of power" in Suffolk County, Romaine urged the board to write letters supporting the traffic signal so the proposal can gain approval.

"As a stopgap measure, it's the right way to go," said Russell.

Councilman Tom Wickham urged the need to review the results of the DPW traffic study. Romaine promised to share preliminary findings when available. It is expected that the DPW study results, which are forthcoming, will indicate the need for a traffic light at the intersection.

Wickham expressed concern over a traffic signal: "Once a traffic light, always a traffic light." He said there is no certainty that a traffic signal will decrease accidents and may spark an increase. He also questioned the cost of maintaining the light.

Romaine said while stoplights may cause an increase in rear-end accidents, right-angle accidents, such as those occurring at the Westphalia, are far more deadly.

Southold Town Police Chief Carlisle Cochran said since June of 1999, there have been 54 accidents at the site, with at least one involving serious injury; there have been no fatalities.

Southold Town Superintendent of Highways Pete Harris and Neboysha Brashich, chairman of the town's transportation commission, attended the work session. Harris said he disagreed with Wickham. A traffic signal would help to address, in a timely way, serious accidents occurring consistently at the site.

"It's not a routine intersection. It's a major artery. Trying to get across Route 48 is a very difficult situation," said Harris.

Harris said a similar problem exists on Cox Neck Road; roundabouts have been proposed in both spots. "But in the meantime, if we can have a traffic light installed while we're waiting for a roundabout to become a reality, so be it."

Councilman Dan Ross said the Cox Neck Road situation needs immediate attention: Russell deemed both intersections important.

The county is feeling the crunch in regard to capital expenditures, and experiencing cutbacks from dredging projects to open space preservation, said Romaine. As for a future roundabout, he suggested Wickham contact County Executive Steve Levy to "see if he's committed to financing" the project.

Romaine made his priorities clear: As long as he holds his seat on the legislature: "The voice of Southold Town is going to be heard, loud and clear."

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