By Amanda Wyatt
After nearly a decade of heated discussion about the congested section of Noyac Road in front of the complex that hosts Cromer’s Country Market, the Southampton Town Highway Department plans to move forward with traffic calming measures.
According to town highway department superintendent Alex Gregor, the department plans to finalize one of the proposed traffic schemes, put out a construction bid and begin work on the project soon. He hopes to complete the project by Memorial Day 2013, when heavy summer traffic begins on the road.
The news came following a scoping session on traffic calming on Friday, August 24 at the Old Noyac Schoolhouse, where residents were invited to learn about the potential plans for the area and offer their input.
While several reconstruction schemes were presented at the forum, they all involve the creation of a median on Noyac Road in front of Cromer’s Country Market, that separates the parking area from the roadway. In addition plantings would be used in some areas of the centerline to separate lanes of traffic. Gregor said the town hopes to use shrubs and other plants to soften the effect.
“The addition of the planting in the median of the roadway will be a positive effect,” he said.
Gregor also wants to put in a turning lane so vehicles can “turn in and out of that business center safely. What has to be done — and that’s what we’re doing — is reducing the travel lanes to create an effect called constant friction so that people will feel the road shrinking in width, and that naturally forces people to slow down.”
In addition to speeding — a problem all along Noyac Road, said Gregor — the Cromer’s Country Market-Whalebone General Store shopping area also has a parking lot that is not clearly defined from the main road. The highway department also pointed out that the parking lot is not large enough, which causes cars and trucks to park along the road.
The department also cited other problem areas on Noyac Road, like the intersection of Bay Avenue and Elm Street. In order to fix these problems, Gregor said that $480,000 has been allocated to the reconstruction project.
The highway department’s plans, however, have met with controversy. A large number of Noyac residents and business owners have expressed concern over the proposals, including Linda Heine, whose family owns the Whalebone General Store.
In an interview, Heine called the proposed median “a monstrosity,” believing that it would not successfully slow down traffic.
Tony Lawless, owner of Cromer’s Country Market, agreed.
“It would create havoc in this area between tractor trailers getting in and out, and the traffic going east to west because of the barrier … the traffic wouldn’t move at all,” he said.
In the spring, Heine said, 334 people signed her petition opposing the highway department’s plans to create a median, close off Bay Avenue and put in a stop sign on Noyac Road at the east end of Cromer’s County Market at Cedar Lane.
In fact, the highway department had originally hoped to use a scheme that involved acquiring a vacant triangular patch of land currently owned by the Heine family, but they were unwilling to sell it.
But for Heine, “this [new] plan is exactly the same as the old one.”
“It’s not using my triangle, but it’s still directing traffic through Pine Neck [Avenue],” she said. “We don’t want to direct traffic through Pine Neck.”
According to Heine, an original plan from 2009 that the town “had come up with was approved without a median. They were going to widen the road and create a turn lane without a median.”
However, Gregor refuted this claim, saying that he had no record of any such plan.
Another point of tension between some Noyac residents and the highway department centers around the issue of accidents. The Southampton Town Police Department reports there were 46 accidents in the Cromer’s Country Market/Whalebone General Store area between January 2007 and June 2012.
While Gregor found the statistic was troubling, Lawless and Heine believed the numbers were overblown.
With an estimated 12,000 vehicles a day traveling on the road during the summer months, Lawless called the chance of an accident “one in a million.”
“We haven’t had a serious accident but one, which was somebody drunk,” Lawless said.
Still, Gregor was concerned about the potential for fatalities, especially in light of the staggering number of lethal accidents this summer. He was deeply affected after meeting the fellow sisters of the nun killed in the Water Mill hit-and-run this July.
Keeping this in mind, Gregor wants to prevent such a tragedy from occurring in Noyac. And as far as he is concerned, it’s not a matter of “if it’s going to happen; it’s when.”
The one thing that all parties can agree on, however, is the issue of speeding. A study by the town has shown that the 85th percentile of drivers on Noyac Road travel at 45 mph, which is between 10 and 15 miles greater than the speed limit.