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Apr 13, 2016 11:15 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

County Road 39 Blinking Light Program Scheduled For Next Week

The traffic pattern on County Road 39 April 19 through the 21, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Apr 13, 2016 11:15 AM

The traffic light at Tuckahoe Road and County Road 39 in Shinnecock Hills will be switched to blinking yellow during the morning commute for three days next week, an effort by Southampton Town and Suffolk County to address traffic backups on that stretch.

The program, which was considered during the previous town administration before being acted upon this year by current Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, will take place from 6 to 9 a.m. Tuesday, April 19, through Thursday, April 21, and involve switching the tri-colored light at Tuckahoe Road to blinking yellow. Left-hand turns from Tuckahoe Road onto County Road 39 will be prohibited, as will left-hand turns from County Road 39 onto Tuckahoe Road. Motorists traveling north and south on Tuckahoe Road will not be allowed to cross over County Road 39.

This week engineers from the Suffolk County Department of Public Works were driving a loop to collect preliminary data on travel times from the Shinnecock Canal on Sunrise Highway to the end of County Road 39, where it meets Montauk Highway in Southampton Village. Engineers also collected data on the travel time from Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays from Flanders Road to the Shinnecock Canal. On Wednesday morning, that road was closed in Hampton Bays, with traffic rerouted to several side streets, presumably because of the ongoing repaving of a 1-mile stretch of Main Street in Hampton Bays.

The data compiled this week will be compared to data collected during the blinking light pilot program, also by county engineers traveling that route on County Road 39.

The overall goal of the program, officials have said, is to see if eliminating the traffic signal at Tuckahoe Road and County Road 39 will be feasible. If it is, it will be the green light for engineers to develop a long-term solution to clear eastbound traffic backups.

“I’m looking for a reduction of 10 minutes in the commute,” Mr. Schneiderman said on Tuesday. “Now, that may not seem like a lot of time, but for the average worker, 10 minutes a day is 50 minutes a week—that’s close to an hour of their life. It’s been a long goal of the county [Department of Public Works] … to eliminate some traffic lights there. There’s no doubt that [it adds] to the traffic congestion.”

If the blinking light program yields positive results, the supervisor said, there is a possibility that an underpass could eventually be constructed somewhere near Tuckahoe Road, similar to the setup at nearby St. Andrews Road, which goes under County Road 39 and loops around for access to that main thoroughfare.

While noting that an underpass could be expensive, he explained that the intersection there should be adjusted sooner rather than later, mainly because Southampton Hospital will eventually relocate to the Stony Brook Southampton Campus at the southwest corner of Tuckahoe Road and County Road 39.

“With the growth of the campus predicted over the next few years, and the relocation of the hospital to that location, that is a critical intersection,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “If we’re going to somehow eliminate that light, we’re going to have to come up with a better solution—an underpass holds some promise. Whether it’s workable, whether it can be funded without burdening local taxpayers, I think that’s a challenge for me to try to figure out.”

Still, the fate of that intersection is contingent on one thing: the result of next week’s pilot program.

“There is a fear that traffic will back up straight through [the intersection], even with the light blinking at Tuckahoe, that it could be standstill traffic because it’s backed up all the way to the Magee Street traffic light,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “Then it doesn’t matter whether it’s blinking or not—traffic’s not going to move.”

Town and county officials initially wanted to test the program at both Tuckahoe Road and Magee Street, which is the next traffic light when heading east. But because the Tuckahoe School is located on Magee, school officials there were concerned with how a blinking light would affect morning bus routes.

Mr. Schneiderman said he eventually opted not to blink the light at Magee Street, explaining that “it just got to be a logistical nightmare.” However, he said he would still like to test it out in the near future and is discussing the prospect with Tuckahoe School officials and the bus company it uses. “If the will is there … I could see possibly by mid-May, we could work it,” he said.

If the fear of a backup is realized, Mr. Schneiderman said, the town and county will leave the intersection alone and try to find other ways to alleviate traffic. Randomly blinking the lights at Tuckahoe Road and Magee Street when traffic is congested could be one option, the supervisor said.

Tom Neely, the town’s director of public transportation and traffic safety, said the possibility of an underpass near that part of County Road 39 is not entirely out of the question, but is something that would need to be discussed in much greater detail if the blinking light pilot program is successful.

“That kind of idea is very much a long-term idea. I know there has been some discussion and some interest in it … but I think it’s something that would require a whole lot more discussion,” Mr. Neely said. “We’re certainly going to see what difference [the blinking light] makes. I think we’ll sit down after we get the results … and kind of make a judgment as to what the differences are. The board and all of us will discuss what the differences were and go from there.

“My thought is to get through the next couple of weeks,” he added.

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