Walter takes Suffolk to task over traffic lights and dock space

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The light at the Dick's Sporting Goods shopping center on Route 58 is maintained by the town, even though it's along a county road.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The light at the Dick’s Sporting Goods shopping center on Route 58 is maintained by the town, even though it’s along a county road.

Riverhead and Suffolk County remain at odds over who should maintain traffic signals on county roads within the town.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter raised the issue last week during a public hearing on a proposal to have the town formally take over maintenance of the traffic light at County Road 105 and Riverside Drive. Mr. Walter said he feels the town should no longer be required to maintain traffic signals on county roads, which has been the long-standing practice.

“I’m tired of the county dumping everything on the town,” Mr. Walter said.

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone, said Tuesday the county has signed agreements with the town specifying all the traffic signals the town maintains on county roads. Some of those agreements date back to the ’70s, she said.

In most instances, the county builds the traffic signals and the town maintains them. The town maintains traffic signals only on county roads that intersect with town roads, she said.

“I don’t think we ever had any instances where they’ve refused to maintain a light, because it’s helping their roads, too,” Ms. Baird-Streeter said.

Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said a 1989 legal opinion from the New York State Comptroller addresses the issue.

That opinion states that the town is responsible for installing and maintaining traffic signals, if deemed necessary, at the intersection of a town and county road.

However, it also says: “A town has no similar duty with respect to the intersection of two county roads.”

In an interview, Mr. Walter said the county studies whether an intersection involving a county road is hazardous and warrants a traffic signal. Therefore, the county should maintain those signals, he said.

Last week’s hearing was mostly a technicality to add the traffic signal at 105 and Riverside Drive to town code, as all traffic signals are, Mr. Walter said. It turned out the signal was already in the town code.

“I have not been convinced over the past several months that local municipalities are required to take over operation and maintenance of county traffic lights,” Mr. Walter said.

The supervisor said the town street lighting department has maintained the county traffic signals since 1995. Before that, the highway department held the job.

The town’s street lighting department has budgeted a total of $35,000 for traffic signal maintenance in 2014, but the budget doesn’t break down whether the lights are on county or town roads.

In an interview, Mr. Walter also expressed his displeasure that the town provides free dock space to the county’s dredges. Mr. Walter said the county should agree to dredge Riverhead’s creeks first.

“We give them 100 feet of free dock space for dredging equipment and they dredge us last,” he said.

Only two of the four creeks where dredging was planned were completed before a Jan. 15 deadline, Mr. Walter said.

In September, county Department of Public Works commissioner Gil Anderson had asked Riverhead and other East End towns to pay for overtime because the department needed to run double shifts to finish its 23 countywide dredging jobs before Jan. 15, a deadline related to restrictions concerning winter flounder.

The Riverhead Town Board approved a resolution in October allowing up to $11,317 in overtime costs to be paid to the county for dredging.

Riverhead’s creeks are dredged last because the DPW keeps its dredge in Riverhead, Ms. Baird-Streeter said. Mr. Walter said the same logic could be used to have Riverhead dredged first.

Ms. Baird-Streeter said the town hasn’t been charged yet for overtime pay on the dredge projects.

“They haven’t been charged anything,” she said. “That was just an estimate.”

She said she was looking into Mr. Walter’s other claim about the dredging, but said that due to environmental regulations, the county can dredge only between Oct. 1 and Jan. 15.

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