Gurney's Inn
July 19, 2006

C.R. 39 Project Gets Green Light

Drivers who've been praying last week's pilot program on County Road 39 in Southampton will continue on throughout the summer can breathe a collective sigh of relief — it's going to happen.

Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney and the Southampton Town Board held a special meeting on Monday to authorize a public hearing next Monday regarding a local law that would extend temporary restrictions on left turns and maintain the 30-mile per hour speed limit until September 15.

The plan, said Heaney, is to close the public hearing next Monday and adopt the law, meaning as soon as next Tuesday morning it will be smooth sailing for drivers.

The pilot program was created to bring relief for commuters who've been dealing with congestion and extensive delays on CR 39.

The plan involved switching to two lanes headed east with one westbound lane during the morning rush hour, beginning at dawn and ending at 9 a.m. Traffic moved as though there were a temporary median down the middle of the road, with no left turns.

The project, which lasted for one week, was a home run with commuters heralding the concept as nothing short of the second coming.

"I got from my house in Speonk to Southampton Town Hall in 29 minutes," said one elated driver. "I usually have to allow myself an hour and a half for the same trip."

Last week, Heaney reached out to New York State Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele in an effort to generate funding for the continuation of the program. "We would not normally use our operating budget to fund a traffic control project on a county road," said Heaney. "We wouldn't expect taxpayers to carry that burden."

After the idea was put forth by County Legislator Jay Schneiderman last month, the county ponied up for Department of Public Works presence and orange cones, something County Executive Steve Levy vowed to continue, based on the success of last week's pilot session. "I hope the town will follow through and keep it going all summer," said Schneiderman. "The ball's in their court."

But the hefty cost of town police presence — one week cost the town roughly $26,000 in overtime — was a deterrent, with costs falling squarely on the shoulders of taxpayers forced to bear the burden.

Thiele's office is pitching in $25,000 in discretionary funds from the state to offset the cost of public services to the town. "Residents who travel through County Road 39 should get benefit of this program through the rest of the summer and should not lose the project due to lack of funding," said Thiele, who drove through during the experiment last week. "What a difference!" he reported.

In addition, LaValle is providing the town with $75,000 in the form of an aid to localities grant.

"We are sensitive to several businesses that require high turnover of customers who have been impacted by this program," said Heaney. "We will be specifically looking for ways to permit some limited left turn opportunities so those businesses will not be impacted during the rest of this program."

The experiment, said Schneiderman, has proven effective "beyond people's wildest expectations."

Schneiderman advocates for a number of solutions. To start, he said, money for cones is the first step, followed by restriping this fall, and within two years, a widening of the road so that there would be two lanes in both directions. Although "not pretty" at first, it would get the job done, he said.

Seven years down the road, he added, sidewalks and beautification of the area could commence.

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