BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverleigh Avenue intersects with the Riverside traffic circle on Flanders Road.
A plan to turn the Riverside traffic circle into a two-lane roundabout, the News-Review has learned, would block Riverleigh Avenue from entering the circle, as it does now, and instead divert most northbound traffic to a new road farther east that would intersect with Flanders Road (County Road 24).
That’s the County Department of Public Works’ preferred plan for improving traffic flow at the often clogged circle.
DPW chief engineer Bill Hillman updated the Southampton Town Board last week on the county’s study of the traffic circle. But he cautioned that all plans are in a concept stage now, and said the county hasn’t even budgeted money for anything beyond the ongoing study.
The problem with the Riverside circle, Mr. Hillman said, is that it has “five legs,” meaning five different major roads — Flanders Road, Nugent Drive, Lake Avenue, Riverleigh Avenue and Peconic Avenue — can enter and exit the circle.
A sixth road, Woodhull Avenue, could also be included, although it doesn’t generate as much traffic.
“It’s extremely difficult to make extensive traffic congestion improvements while maintaining these five legs,” Mr. Hillman told the board Friday during its work session. “That’s what our study revealed.”
The goal is to eliminate one of those legs.
But not everyone in Southampton Town Hall believes there is a problem in need of addressing.
“I am not so sure there is broad consensus with regard to the problems at the circle and that they need such an extensive and severe and impactful fix,” said Councilwoman Bridget Fleming. “For most of the time, the circle works pretty well. It does get backed up by McDonald’s. I spend a lot of time on that circle and it’s not high on my list of things that have to be fixed. I’ve been sort of taking the pulse out there, and I’m not certain there is broad consensus in the community that this extensive of a fix is necessary.”
Mr. Hillman disagreed.
“From our traffic analysis, this presently operates as what we call an ‘F,’ a failure, in the peak hours,” he said.
County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who also sat in on the discussion, said he believes that over the years, more and more drivers have switched from using County Road 111 in Manorville to exit the Long Island Expressway en route to the South Fork, and instead have been using the Nugent Drive/Flanders Road exit from the LIE. So, congestion at the circle may only get worse in the future, he said.
Mr. Hillman said DPW could leave the circle with the five legs and create a two-lane roundabout, but the improvements would probably only last for about five years before traffic conditions begin to deteriorate again.
“We look at 20 years down the road,” he said. “That’s the industry standard for how you spend capital money.”
The county has thus far studied two options for addressing congestion at the circle.
The DPW’s preferred plan would block access to the circle from Riverleigh Avenue, but would allow northbound traffic on Riverleigh Avenue to turn right onto Flanders Road. With this plan, the county would have to work out a way to give ambulances and police more direct access to navigate the area, Mr. Hillman said, especially since the State Police barracks is on Riverleigh Avenue and the plan would compromise access for northbound squad cars.
The DPW’s preferred plan also would create a new road, running from the south end of Old Quogue Road and connecting with Flanders Road by the old drive-in property, near where the town is planning a new Riverside hamlet center. Another traffic circle or roundabout would be created where Flanders Road and the new road intersect, Mr. Hillman said. The section of Riverleigh Avenue that stretches from Old Quogue Road to the circle would then become a town road, and the new road would be a county road, Mr. Hillman said.
The other proposal being considered by DPW would block Lake Avenue (County Road 63) from entering the circle, and realign it so its north end merges into Riverleigh Avenue (County Road 104). But that option would require the county to condemn and purchase the Budget Host Inn property and the long-vacant Riverboat Diner property. That, Mr. Hillman said, would add about $8 million to the project cost — and several years to the project. He called the land acquisitions plan the county’s “non-preferred alternative.”
DPW doesn’t have cost estimates for either plan, other than the additional cost of purchasing property, Mr. Hillman said.
DPW officials believe the Peconic Avenue traffic circle is the main cause of traffic jams on Flanders Road, and that a traffic signal or roundabout on Flanders Road would not create the same backups. A roundabout is similar to a circle but has different approach angles.
The preferred plan would also require the county to acquire property to create the new road. Much of the land that would be needed is owned by Thomas McCarthy of Southold and his corporation, TSC Holdings, according to town records. Freda Eisenberg, the town’s acting planning and development administrator, said the town has made the property owner aware of these proposals but has not begun any negotiations.
Ms. Fleming noted that there is a residential neighborhood along Old Quogue Road that would be affected by the proposed new road.
Mr. Hillman agreed there would be impacts, but suggested the town could rezone some properties for commercial use, which would make these properties more valuable and contribute to the town’s plans to create a Riverside hamlet.
Mr. Hillman said DPW will not move forward with any plans that the town doesn’t support, adding that his department would also like to work with Riverhead Town and the state Department of Transportation to alleviate some of the congestion stemming from downtown Riverhead.
He suggested making Peconic Avenue and the bridge by Riverhead Free Library into one-way roads.
“We’ve tried to work with Riverhead and the state on some concepts and no one has jumped on the bandwagon with us,” he said.