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Southold Town could get ‘experimental’ with fall traffic this year

07/19/2019 6:00 AM |

With autumn just around the corner, police chiefs in Riverhead and Southold towns have been meeting regularly to come up with potential short-term solutions to alleviate traffic backing up along Sound Avenue. 

“We’re going to try a couple of experimental traffic patterns,” Southold Chief Martin Flatley told Town Board members at a work session Tuesday.

One pumpkin-season pilot program could involve closing a portion of Sound Avenue to westbound traffic on Saturday and Sunday mornings to use that lane for eastbound vehicles. With two lanes heading east, Chief Flatley said one lane could be used as a turning lane for vehicles attempting to enter businesses along Sound Avenue and “maybe increase the flow of eastbound traffic a lot better than it’s been in the past,” he said.

Westbound vehicles would have to be diverted to the Main Road, likely at Aldrich Lane in Laurel.

“The downside to that is eastbound traffic is still going to slow up,” at the detour spot, Chief Flatley said, noting that any experimental traffic pattern would be under close police supervision from both the Southold and Riverhead police departments.

Riverhead Chief David Hegermiller could not be reached for comment this week.

The two towns have been collaborating in recent years to address fall traffic woes. Working with the New York State Department of Transportation, officials may attempt to create a “third” lane using cones on Sound Avenue to help cars move along.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell didn’t mince words during the work session.

“There’s nothing new here,” he said. “The traffic far exceeds the infrastructure.”

Mr. Russell said the traffic has negatively impacted businesses farther east in Southold Town in what “should be the most robust part” of the season.

Discussions between the towns and different transportation agencies, he said, often return to one central point: Sound Avenue is too narrow.

Creating bike lanes, Supervisor Russell argued, could be among the solutions.

“The police departments would have more road to work with, because [the bike lanes] would become part of the logistics of getting cars in and out,” he said.

Widening Sound Avenue to a four-lane road, for example, would “never happen,” Mr. Russell said, due to lack of public support and the designation of the area as a historic corridor.

Bike lanes, though, would have a year-round benefit. “Off peak, you’re creating something that the federal government, the state of New York, the County of Suffolk, everybody says is a priority,” Mr. Russell said. “It’s not going to be a cure all — you won’t be able to blaze through there at 55 [miles] an hour, but at least you’ll get through.”

The proposal could be costly and challenging due to the mix of ownerships of the road ranging from Suffolk County, both towns, and New York State.

“Everybody’s got to pony up,” Mr. Russell said, calling for representatives from each municipality to meet and take action, rather than perform a traffic study.

“It’s not an inexpensive proposition, but it’s got to get done,” he said.

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the discussion on traffic mitigation has been ongoing between the two towns.

She said Riverhead Town is working to hire additional traffic control specialists to help traffic flow at several “choke points” identified by officials and civic groups.

The supervisor also pointed out that Harbes family, whose farm is identified as one such choke point, has purchased an additional 8-acre property to use for parking near their business.

Ms. Jens-Smith welcomed Mr. Russell’s idea to create bike lanes along the narrow road.

“We are open to anything that increases the traffic flow and makes it safe for people,” she said.

However, she said the long-term solution would require a feasibility study before it can be implemented.

She understands Mr. Russell’s frustration.

“Whatever happens in Riverhead has a big impact on business and traffic flow in Southold,” Ms. Jens-Smith said.

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