Gurney's Inn
August 15, 2007

Residents Speak To Officials On County Road 39

Assistant Deputy County Executive Ben Zwirn and William Hillman, chief engineer for Suffolk County Department of Public Works, discuss a new plan that could alleviate safety concerns. (click for larger version)
The clock is ticking and time is short for a plan that could improve safety for Southampton residents on what has come to be grimly known as "Paseo de Muerte" – the Road of Death.

Members of the Concerned Citizens of Inlet Road East, Cold Spring Ct. and Clam Road in Southampton met on Monday at the home of Steve and Bonni Coen with Assistant Deputy County Executive Ben Zwirn and Suffolk County Chief Engineer William Hillman of the county's department of public works, to voice their safety concerns on the proposed improvements on CR39.

Residents say they've been meeting for years, trying to find a way to alleviate dangerous road conditions existing on CR39 that have led to several car accidents. But despite reaching out to officials, so far, they say, "All of our pleas have gone unanswered."

Now, residents are demanding answers. Over the past three years, they say, the intersection of CR39 / Hill Station Road / Inlet Road East has been the site of serious accidents, some of them deadly.

"This is about safety," said Coen, adding it is not just an issue concerning residents of Inlet Road East. A vast number of those killed or injured in dangerous accidents aren't locals. "This is about the safety of everyone who travels on that highway. It's one of the most dangerous intersections in the entire corridor."

The problem, say residents, is anyone wishing to enter or leave Inlet Road East relies on CR39. In order to turn right onto the road from the highway's westbound lane, a driver must slow down to less than 15 mph. Meanwhile, trucks and cars are traveling between 55 and 70 mph.

Even more dangerous, they say, is the left hand turn onto Inlet Road East. Residents say with vehicles traveling west at excessive speeds, sitting in the turning lane, they are "particularly exposed to head-on collisions, especially when a vehicle is in the turn lane heading in the opposite direction into either Hill Station Road or the gas station." Visibility of oncoming traffic is severely limited.

Many Inlet Road East residents have been in accidents.

At Monday's meeting, a plan was discussed by county representatives that could make all the difference.

Currently, there is an extension of Inlet Road East, a dirt road that leads onto CR39, but potholes make it difficult to use.

The plan is to cut a road from Inlet Road East across to Inlet Road, one that would run parallel to the highway but could not be accessed by westbound traffic.

The concept involves the acquisition of property. According to those present at the meeting, The Lobster Inn is in the process of being sold to a private individual who intends to donate the parcel to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County for a small research facility.

If the town and the town trustees can work with the new owner of the parcel to convey to the town the section of property necessary for cutting the road, Hillman believes the county could come onboard, once County Executive Steve Levy has green lighted the idea. It could be included as part of its interim plan for CR39, he said. Work could begin in September and be completed Memorial Day, 2008.

But time is of the essence. Hillman said if the town does not work with the new Lobster Inn property owner and receive the necessary permits from the DEC, the window of opportunity could close forever. If the plan isn't acted upon, the land will be granted for tax purposes to the Peconic Land Trust and would no longer be available for a new road.

Hilllman urged residents to reach out to the town board and trustees and to the new owner of the parcel.

The goal is a safe entrance and exit to Inlet Road East. But, if the proposed new plan works and a new road is cut, it was agreed that the idea of eventually closing off Inlet Road East, with allowances for emergency vehicles, in order to mitigate dangerous conditions, would be an option.

Hillman also discussed constructing a ramp right after the bridge between Longview Road and the highway that would allow an eastbound entrance to CR39.

Residents asked why the light allowing residents to make a left turn onto CR39 had been removed, and if it could once again be installed, not during the morning hours, but later in the day and evening.

Hillman said traffic signals are actually ineffective at controlling speed, especially as drivers enter or exit a major thoroughfare such at Route 27, and they can actually pose more dangers and risk of accident.

Residents have written a letter to town officials, putting them "on notice in writing with regard to their profound safety concerns."

Frank Zappone, chair of the Southampton Citizens Advisory Committee and transportation committee member, worked to facilitate the event. After the meeting, he said, "This is an example of the best kind of community involvement, a group of concerned neighbors seeking a solution to their problem have led to solutions that benefit everyone who uses CR39."

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