Gurney's Inn
December 06, 2006

CR 39: Year Round Relief?

Bring back the cones!

So say a group of angry commuters who, only days after this year's successful start-up "cones and cops" trial program ended in November, are crying out for a comeback.

The trial program, which signaled an end to traffic woes on County Road 39 this summer and was extended until Thanksgiving, was embraced by commuters who welcomed the relief from traffic congestion that sparked countless delays and serious discontent.

After the program wrapped up for the season, Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney announced that the town had secured funding in the 2007 budget for the program to continue from April through November next year.

The supervisor added that, with the summer season coming to an end, the East End would finally see relief from heavy traffic generated by the traditional crush of seasonal residents and tourists.

Not so, said Ken Allan, a Peconic resident who commutes daily to a job in Southampton. "I don't know what Skip Heaney's talking about but the traffic is back with a vengeance."

Allan added that last week, the first week since the program ended for the year, the traffic was worse than ever, with traffic volume on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as heavy as what's normally seen in summer. And he wants the program extended year-round, with the exception of Christmas and New Year's weeks.

Allan, whose commute should last approximately 40 minutes, said last week it took him over an hour to get to the office.

His colleague Sam Pierce, whose commute from Hampton Bays has increased to a half hour from 15 minutes last week, said the traffic is still an issue. "It's naïveté to think it's not. Actually, it's stupidity."

Heaney said there was one day last week when there was "enormous" traffic. "What we suspect happened is it was really a very fine day and we think a lot of contractors ran out to take advantage of the good weather and get some work done."

As for extending the program year-round, Heaney pointed out that until this year, there was no "cops and cones" program. "Let's be fair about it."

The supervisor said because the board proved an interim improvement to CR 39 was feasible and productive, as a result, County Executive Steve Levy and the Suffolk County Department of Public Works "worked feverishly and, in a matter of months, put together a plan for a five-and-a-half mile stretch of road that will be implemented not in 15 years, but in two."

As for Allan's complaints, Heaney shares the same commute and endures the same traffic. "He's impatient because he suffered two post-demonstration days of traffic. We're moving as fast as we can. If he thinks that, going into winter, when we're really going to see inclement weather, that we are going to somehow find money on the magical money tree to make his commute a little more enjoyable at this time of year — I don't know what he's smoking."

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said he recognized the need for the cones, with bottleneck traffic still an issue, something he finds surprising.

But, he added, there are no funds in the budget to consider the concept of extending the program year-round. "We did whatever we could to keep it going as long as we did."

Schneiderman agreed the upcoming poor weather would signal potentially dangerous conditions to the cone program. He reminded the town has funds in place for an April start-up, with a "verbal commitment" for county funding.

And, he said, the long-term goal is an additional lane in place by Memorial Day, 2008, which "is the real solution."

Schneiderman has proposed a bill that would provide Friday night relief for second-home owners and tourists during the height of the season.

He submitted a request to the DPW to solicit proposals from private traffic-management companies to provide road cones, lights, signs and personnel to open the lane on Friday nights from 7 to 10 p.m. from March 1, 2007 to October 1, 2007.

As for Allan, he plans to continue to rally for a year-round program. "We're just not going to stand for this," he said.

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