July 26, 2006

CR 39 Program Sails Forward

It's a done deal.

The Southampton Town Board voted unanimously on Monday to adopt a local law that would extend temporary restrictions on left turns and maintain the 30-mile per hour speed limit on County Road 39 until September 15.

That's good news for drivers who, spoiled by a week of smooth sailing during the pilot program, were back to sitting in stalled traffic last week as they headed east in the morning morass of CR39's traffic madness.

After the law was adopted on Monday, Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney said the legislation was Fedexed to the Secretary of State so the program could commence yesterday.

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 deemed a success by commuters.

Last week, Heaney said a meeting was convened with key players in the program, including representatives from Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's office, Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi, Assemblyman Fred Thiele, as well as chief engineer Bill Hillman of the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, Southampton Town Chief of Police James Overton and Lieutenant John James of the Southampton Town Police Department, to discuss details of the program's kickoff week.

Discussed at great length, said Heaney, was the issue of left turns. Currently, said the supervisor, "We'll look at a segment of the plan used during the U.S. Open," that established one lane going west and two going east between Tuckahoe Road and Sandy Hollow Road.

Another consideration that will come into play once school starts in September, said the supervisor, is school buses. "That's a new dimension — how do we make sure children get to school?" he said.

Heaney explained there will be an outreach to the Tuckahoe and Southampton school districts to hear their concerns about how the new program might affect routing of school buses: "The devil is always in the details," he said.

Another concern addressed at the meeting was for businesses on the north side of CR 39 who have seen their traffic dwindle with the absence of morning left-hand turns. The new legislation, he said, allows the flexibility to consider the access to stores: "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."

As for the possibility of restriping, Heaney said after last week's meeting, it's been concluded that "flipping the current configuration is not the best solution."

Down the line, Heaney said a plan to extend both sides of the road to the right of way, moving utility poles, might be preferable. That plan, however, would include no stacking lane and control of access would have to be considered.

Councilman Chris Nuzzi agreed that a long-term solution is necessary. Although restriping the roads has been suggested for a short-term solution to create two established eastbound lanes and one westbound, the concept will take some analysis. "Some would recommend just throwing down the paint, but I would defer to the traffic engineers," he said.

Heaney emphasized that it's important to remember "the town's role here is to facilitate. It's a county road and the county DPW will ultimately make determinations." The supervisor also noted that the new legislation is written with "flexibility" to allow the county DPW to suspend the program in the event of severe weather.

Police presence is expected to be reduced from the initial 33 officers on the road to a working number of 16-18.

As for next year, the supervisor has asked Assemblyman Thiele, New York State Senator Ken Lavalle and Congressman Tim Bishop to help identify further sources of funding that can be included in next year's operating budget to offset the cost of executing the project next summer. Thiele's office is pitching in $25,000 in discretionary funds from the state to offset the cost of public services to the town. And Lavalle is providing the town with $75,000 in the form of an aid to localities grant.

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