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Traffic committee member fights for lower speed limit, more enforcement

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08/14/2015 9:00 AM |

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Ever since Antoinette Carbone — former president of a Miller Place civic organization — moved to Sunken Pond Estates off Middle Road nearly 10 years ago, she’s been trying to get the 40 mph speed limit on the east-to-west road reduced to 30 mph.

The speed limit was reduced to 35 mph four years ago, but Ms. Carbone, the only civilian member of Riverhead Town’s traffic and safety committee, is still fighting to cut it by another five miles per hour.

“It’s difficult to come out onto Middle Road with so many cars bypassing Route 58,” she said. “Middle Road has become a bypass and it never was meant to be a bypass.”

As she’s watched more and more cars travel Middle Road in recent years, the retired paralegal has encountered a bump in the road that’s been hard to get over: a jurisdictional hurdle to reducing the speed limit.

State law allows towns with populations of over 50,000 to set their own speed limits — even on town roads like Middle Road. Riverhead’s population of nearly 33,000 doesn’t come close to that threshold.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has sponsored several bills to give Riverhead and other municipalities jurisdiction over their own speed limits, but they have either failed in the state Assembly or been vetoed by the governor.

The state Senate passed his most recent bill June 1, but the legislation failed to make it to the Assembly floor before the end of this year’s session, so the process will need to start over, with the Senate committee reviewing the bill.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s 35, 15 or 2 mph — the state hasn’t changed the rules,” Mr. LaValle said. “No bill has gone the complete route — doesn’t matter who the governor is.”

Ms. Carbone and fellow committee member Highway Superintendent Gio Woodson are on the same page when it comes to allowing the town to control speed limits. They also believe communication between the committee and Town Board needs to improve, as does traffic enforcement.

Mr. Woodson, who’s been on the committee for about six years, said he believes more drivers are cautious about speeding on Montauk Highway and in Southampton Town because more drivers are pulled over for speeding in those areas than in Riverhead.

“People have to be respectful about the way they drive and follow the laws,” Mr. Woodson said. “Not everyone has to get a ticket, but if they don’t see police, they’ll do what they want.

“If you change the speed limit and nobody enforces it, then what good is it?” he asked.

A speed limit sign on Middle Road. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A speed limit sign on Middle Road. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Mr. Woodson and Ms. Carbone said they understand that resources within the police department are limited, but they’re confident a solution can be found that would increase enforcement.

Police Chief David Hegermiller, who also sits on the committee, said Wednesday that he believes the only complaints he’s received about speed on Middle Road have come from Ms. Carbone — but that he’d be interested in putting an electronic speed sign there and seeing what the data reveals.

The town has two such signs, one of which is currently being repaired, he said. Typically, if the police department places the signs and numbers show that drivers are speeding, enforcement will then be stepped up in that area.

Councilman John Dunleavy, a retired police officer, has been on the committee for about nine years and said he believes communication between the committee and Town Board is good. He agrees one of the biggest hindrances to getting things done is the state’s control over speed limits, but said enforcement has to be limited given the extent of town resources.

“You can’t be all over the place at one time,” he said, adding that if speeding has been reported at a particular intersection, the police chief assigns an officer to enforce the limit. He described the committee’s work as a delicate dance between addressing concerns and achieving reasonable solutions.

Since she’s not a town employee, Ms. Carbone says she doesn’t feel restricted in her recommendations and comments about road safety.

“I’d rather be free to say what I want to say,” she said.

While she lived in Miller Place, she said, she volunteered to improve the quality of life for Brookhaven Town residents.

She was community’s civic president for over 20 years and credits that organization with motivating the town to establish an architectural review committee, which occurred, she said, after several unattractive developments had been approved.

The committee meetings, which are open to the public, take place of the fourth Thursday of each month in Town Hall and Ms. Carbone said she welcomes all residents to voice their concerns there or submit them in writing.

As for the speed limit on Middle Road, Ms. Carbone said she’ll continue to work with elected leaders to reduce it.

“It’s frustrating because I’m still fighting this year after year,” she said, “But I have no regrets.”

Photo Caption: Antoinette Carbone at the entrance to Sunken Pond Estates on Middle Road where she lives. The retired paralegal has been working toward reducing the speed limit for several years. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

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With Joseph Pinciaro

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