July 05, 2006

CR39 Experiment: It's All Rights

Tomorrow the Southampton Town Board will hold a special hearing on temporarily changing the speed limit and prohibiting left turns on a section of County Road 39 running from the Sunrise Highway merge to North Sea Road. The law is a requirement in advance of a pilot program designed to provide traffic congestion relief on CR 39.

Last Friday, the town board met with myriad involved agencies to hash out details of the plan to reconfigure lanes on the roadway. Barring severe weather, beginning Monday the lane configuration will switch to two lanes heading east and just one westbound during the weekday morning rush. The plan mimics traffic patterns used during the U.S. Open golf tournament several years ago.

Key to the plan, and likely to be a source of confusion for some motorists will be a prohibition against any left turns off the main road. No left turn onto any property whatsoever will be permitted. Between the hours of 5:30 and 9:00 a.m. the traffic will move as if there were a median down the center of CR39, with a temporary speed limit set at 30 mph. "Basically, we're creating a limited access highway for a week," Supervisor Skip Heaney said.

And no more than a week, he implied. When the notion of providing temporary relief was first debuted by County Legislator Jay Schneiderman last month, the hope was that the lane configuration change might be employed throughout the summer season. However, Heaney balked at the notion of underwriting the substantial costs inherent in providing the necessary police coverage the change would entail. Although the county will participate, using Department of Public Works staff to devise the plan and erect cones and signs, as of press time, County Executive Steve Levy was unwilling to lend county cops to the project. The DPW cost of the pilot project has been estimated at $7000 for a week. Police costs are many times that.

Sheriff Vincent DeMarco and Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley have stepped up, as have the state police. They all offered staff to participate in traffic control. Heaney noted that during the U.S. Open, the cost for police coverage topped the $300,000 mark for just two weeks. According to Southampton Town Police Captain Anthony Tenaglia a substantial portion of the cost was related to security, but the department never assessed what portion was dedicated to traffic control alone. Based on the plans presented, he estimated that about 27 traffic posts will be needed at the outset. This week, representatives from each of the police agencies involved will meet to determine what contribution each agency can make.

Heaney and Councilwoman Linda Kabot both expressed a hope for future mitigation measures. Heaney believes the pilot project will "prove what we already know." Both thought the project might lead to a re-striping of the road, keeping two lanes heading east and the turning lane. That could work until the federal, state, and county governments are ready to move forward with the major reconstruction the road needs, Kabot said.

In the meantime, as The Independent went to press, officials were ready for the pilot program to begin Monday morning and run through the workweek. Flyers and public service advertisements will alert motorists to the change, as will a plethora of signs and police. Heaney asked police to establish a contact person business owners can call if problems emerge from the project.

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