Town Board changes derail Riverside Drive traffic relief plan

BARBARELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A car makes a left turn onto Riverside Drive

Blocking left turns from County Road 105 onto Riverside Drive may have had the support of the previous Town Board, but it doesn’t have the support of most current board members.
And that may force residents there to wait longer for any potential relief from persistent traffic problems on the “cut-through” block.

Through traffic, speeding and cars backed up and blocking driveways as they wait to turn onto Route 25 were among the problems residents cited at a meeting Wednesday night in Town Hall called by County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches).

But the county will not take any action until the new Town Board requests it, according to Mr. Romaine and Bill Hillman, chief engineer of the county Department of Public Works.

While the previous resolution still exists, only two members of that board are on the current board.

The previous Town Board, acting on requests from Riverside Drive residents, passed a resolution in September 2009 urging the county to prohibit northbound traffic on County Road 105 from making left turns onto Riverside Drive.

The resolution came about after a proposal to dead-end Riverside Drive before it connects to Route 105 failed to get Town Board support.

None of the current board members attended Wednesday’s meeting, but in interviews afterward, Supervisor Sean Walter and councilmen Jim Wooten and George Gabrielsen said that they don’t support banning left turns from County Road 105 onto Riverside Drive.

The town asked the county to install the left turn signal on traffic light at Route 105 and Riverside Drive several years ago at a cost of about $250,000, Mr. Walter noted.

I think it’s irresponsible for us to turn around and say don’t make a left turn here because the whole purpose of [the traffic signal] was to make the intersection safe,” the supervisor said. “If the county was just going to close that intersection off, they could have done that for probably a couple of thousand dollars.

“Also, if you do this you’re going you have the unintended consequences of creating additional traffic on Hubbard Avenue and other places,” Mr. Walter added. “This is just going to move the problem to another neighborhood. I’m the town supervisor for all the residents of the town. Not just those that live on Riverside Drive.”

Resident Pam Hogrefe, who supports the no left turn proposal, said the problem stems from traffic cutting through Riverside Drive to get to stores on Route 58. And the problem is only going to get worse, she insisted.

“The problem is that Route 58 is continuing to grow, so Riverside Drive’s problems will grow,” Ms. Hogrefe said.
According to Mr. Hillman, public works actually studied the traffic on Riverside Drive and confirmed that it is pass-through traffic. But the county’s study did not propose any solutions.

“From a county standpoint, our intersection works fine,” Mr. Hillman said.

Because Riverside Drive is a town road, he said, “it’s not the county or the state’s responsibility to figure out a solution.”
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said several potential solutions to Riverside Drive’s traffic problems have been proposed and rejected for various reasons over the years.

Cutting off access to County Road 105 didn’t have the support of the Town Board, putting stop signs on Riverside Drive to slow traffic didn’t have the support of residents and putting speed bumps on Riverside Drive didn’t have the support of the town attorney.

Riverside Drive residents themselves also seemed to lack consensus on what potential solutions they would like officials to pursue.

Sue Frohnhoefer, who lives off Riverside Drive, said she opposes banning left turns and it should not be assumed that everyone on Riverside Drive and its side streets favors banning left turns.

Other solutions discussed include “traffic calming” methods such as increased police enforcement and “speed humps” to slow drivers down.

Mr. Walter said in an interview Friday that the one change he would like to see is for the state to ban left turns from Route 25 onto Riverside Drive because these cars are often backed up on the railroad tracks, which creates a danger.

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