Gurney's Inn
August 02, 2006

What Might Have Been


The temporary measures taken may have helped abate the traffic problems on County Road 39 in the morning — though the solution should have been implemented five years ago — it's important to remember the corridor is clogged pretty much all day long.

It didn't have to be that way.

Almost 40 years ago Perry Duryea Jr., a State Assemblyman from Montauk, saw the problem coming. He was concerned that it took ambulances so long to get to Southampton Hospital from Montauk, and concerned the trip home seemed to grow longer and longer each year. Professional planners realized the same thing.

A bypass was drawn up that would provide an alternate means for drivers to get around on the East End. Traveling north of the highway roughly where Scuttlehole Road is, the bypass was to cross over the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike, cut across where the recycling center is and to Route 114 about where Merchant's Path is, then through and across the Northwest Woods all the way to old Stone Highway in Amagansett. It was designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, using existing trails and back roads wherever possible.

Stopping the bypass from becoming a reality became a cause celebrč, with the newly formed Group For The South Fork in the forefront. The peace and love generation took up the "Green" mantra. Studies were produced disputing the obvious: more and more cars were using the road every year.

Duryea, a Republican, was villainized. He was a tool for developers, opponents charged. He wanted to bring a casino to Montauk, they whispered. These baseless charges stung Duryea. As the Majority Leader of the Assembly, he had funneled millions of dollars to the East End for land preservation, vast swaths of virgin woodland, particularly in and near his beloved Montauk. In fact, he was the single most important conservationist of his era.

Though most of those who opposed the Montauk Highway Bypass were genuinely concerned and believed the misinformation foisted on them, a few insiders were shrewd investors who acquired farmland and vast tracks of the Northwest Woods, touting the coming bypass as a reason landowners should sell cheap.

Years later, these same investors subdivided the properties and made millions.

A bypass, much like the one on the North Fork, would make life so much easier and safer for South Fork residents. Alas, it was done in by greedy developers dressed up like environmentalists.

All that land they fought to "protect?" Most of it was cleared to make way for McMansions.

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