By Kathryn G. Menu
When it comes down to it, Southampton Town is a two-road town. To enter or exit, there is County Road 39 and there is Montauk Highway—the two lone arteries into a region practically overflowing with visitors come August.
Add what have tragically become a new standard—serious, sometimes-fatal car accidents—traffic and safety issues are compounded.
Following two serious accidents late last month—one that claimed the life of a young mother from Shirley—last Thursday the Southampton Town Board met with Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce and Tom Neely, the town’s transportation director, to talk about potential solutions to traffic delays when these accidents occur.
“It raised a lot of concerns about what happens to traffic, what happens to the flow of traffic, what happens in terms of communicating to the larger community,” said Supervisor Anna Throne Holst.
Faced with the simple truth that when dealing with a serious or fatal accident, certain protocols go into effect that prevent emergency crews and police from being able to immediately clear roadways, the board began to discuss ways to alert drivers of potential delays, and potential improvements to allow emergency service workers the ability to get to a scene more quickly.
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming suggested the town could create an emergency response plan for serious accidents, detailing a protocol for traffic re-routing that can immediately go into effect in the event of a bad accident.
Neely noted improvements could be made to County Road 39 itself to make access for emergency service personnel easier. Original redesign plans for that roadway—completed by Suffolk County with the input of Southampton Town officials—called for the creation of traffic calming measures like medians and created road shoulders.
“There may be some things that can be revisited,” said Neely. “I think the lack of shoulder is a major issue.”
Neely said when County Road 39 is closed, an average of 30,000 to 34,000 are utilizing the road daily — year-round, not just during the busy summer season. When that roadway is closed, police are redirecting those cars onto Montauk Highway, which already is carrying and average of 13,000 vehicles daily.
Neely said clearing the roadway, for at least a couple lanes, as quickly as possible is the only way traffic flow improves following an accident, although he stressed safety needs to be the first priority.
“Hundreds of first responders are hit at the scenes of accidents they have responded to,” he said.
Councilman Chris Nuzzi said he believes the town should request permanent signage on Sunrsie Highway and even on the Expressway that can notify drivers of serious delays.
Captain Pearce agreed, noting the electrified signs take literally minutes to activate.
Throne Holst added the signs could also be utilized should a town wide evacuation become necessary during an emergency.
She added she has also been in touch with New York State Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. in the hopes of eventually getting speed cameras installed in areas like County Road 39.
“County Road 39 is a perfect example where if people know their license plate is being photographed if they are speeding they will slow down,” said Throne Holst.