Car crashes mount at Route 58 roundabout

07/15/2010 12:00 AM |

Sign as you are heading east before you get to the Route 58 traffic circle.

There were 11 accidents — two resulting in injuries — during the first two months of the newly built two-lane roundabout at the Route 58 and Roanoke Avenue intersection, the News-Review has learned.

“I think it’s the outermost lanes, east and west, that are causing most of the problems,” said Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller. “That would be the northernmost lane heading west and the southernmost lane heading east, which are the areas where you have two lanes.”

Most of the accidents involve someone simply failing to yield the right of way when entering the circle, according to accident reports acquired by the newspaper through public information requests.

The reports run from April 19, when the new two-lane circle was first opened to traffic, through June 19. The newspaper was notified that they were ready in a letter dated June 30. Subsequent accident reports were not available.

The chief said that while 11 accidents in two months is a high number for a single intersection, “I haven’t heard of anything serious.”

“But I’ve witnessed myself that if you’re going south through the circle, that first car that’s going east has no problem seeing you, it’s that second car sneaking up on the outside lane that creates problems,” he said.

The chief said people must understand that they are supposed to yield and make sure it’s clear to proceed before going through the circle.

Only two of the 11 accidents in the reports involved injuries that required sending people to the hospital.

John Biancaniello, the manager of the Riverhead 7-Eleven on the traffic circle, said the number of accidents seems to be declining, though there were a lot initially.

“I haven’t seen one in about a week,” he said. “There were quite a few at first. It’s a speedway out there. People don’t know how to yield. Especially going east to west, they just go right through it.”

Six of the 11 accidents in the reports took place before June.

Andrew Mitchell, Peconic Bay Medical Center’s president and chief executive officer, said he had driven through the circle many times and, like the chief, believed that heading north and south out of the circle is where the difficulty arises because traffic is exposed to incoming vehicles from the two lanes of Route 58.

“Heading north or south with two extra lanes coming at you, you have to be really careful and judge traffic well,” said Mr. Mitchell, whose offices at the hospital overlook the intersection. “You have to really be on your game.”

But Mr. Mitchell said the two-lane roundabout also has improved the traffic flow on Route 58.

“There’s no question, being here 10 years, that there is much less traffic backup on Route 58 than there has ever been,” he said.

As for solutions to conflicts in the circle, he said, “I guess people just have to get used to it.”

Chief Hegermiller agreed, saying the only solution is “people getting used to driving it. I don’t know what else can be done.”

Signs along Route 58 before the entrances to the roundabout attempt to outline the traffic pattern to drivers. But there’s no guarantee drivers will notice them in time before reaching the roundabout.

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