Engineers from the DPW informed residents on Tuesday evening the new guardrail along Short Beach Road won’t be removed any time soon. Photo by Michael Heller.
By Mara Certic
Tension and frustration soared during a meeting on Tuesday night, when critics of a newly installed guardrail along Short Beach Road were told the galvanized steel structures wouldn’t be removed any time soon.
There was quite the outcry from Bay Point, Noyac, North Haven and Sag Harbor Village residents one morning in June when they awoke to find the Suffolk County Department of Public Works installing guardrails along the previously open road that runs between Long Beach and Sag Harbor Cove.
After a change.org petition started by local artist and North Haven resident April Gornik reached over 600 signatures, a public meeting was set up for residents to air their concerns about the guardrail—which they criticized both for being dangerous and unattractive—with members of the DPW and County Legislator Jay Schneiderman.
The meeting, which took place at the North Haven Village Hall on Tuesday evening attracted a large crowd. Ten minutes before it was slated to begin, the parking lot was full and several residents had to stand in the back of the room throughout the 90-minute meeting.
Bill Hillman and Bill Colavito, both of the DPW, answered questions from the public and attempted to explain why the guardrails were installed.
Mr. Hillman, chief engineer for DPW, said he received a letter from a member of the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee, alerting the county to a safety issue along Short Beach Road—the lack of guardrails.
“There’s criteria that needs to be met to install guiderail,” Mr. Hillman said. “We don’t install guiderail lightly.” He added it’s his job to removed fixed objects from highways. “In most times we’re denying requests for guiderail,” he added.
Mr. Colavito, the DPW’s director of highway design, explained some of the guardrail guidelines.
“It was really a no-brainer of a situation,” he said. Mr. Colavito explained the county inputs information into a chart—the speed limit is, any hazardous slopes, the average number of cars that use the road, any potential danger and enough of a “clear zone” to allow a driver to recuperate if they need to swerve for any reason.
Guardrail skeptics said Short Beach Road has heavy pedestrian traffic and accused the DPW of not considering the issue of pedestrian and cyclist safety. Many said they believe the new guardrails could be much more dangerous to those traveling by foot or on two wheels, who now would have nowhere to turn if a vehicle swerved off the road.
“About 8,000 vehicles use that roadway every day, clearly there are not 8,000 pedestrians or cyclists using it every day,” Mr. Hillman said. “We have 8,000 opportunities for [cars] to veer into the water. What’s the likelihood of that compared to having a cyclist or pedestrian being at that same spot at that exact time?” he said.
David Beard, president of the Bay Point Property Owners Association expressed particular concern about one stretch of the road. When drivers traveling west try to turn left onto Bay Point, he explained, the cars behind zip quickly around them, potentially forcing walkers or joggers into the guardrail. Mr. Beard asked what could be done to alleviate the traffic situation before next summer.
“There’s no silver bullet, there’s no one thing we can do,” said Mr. Hillman. “We’re just not going to remove the guiderail. You guys are entitled to your opinion, but I’m the one who makes this decision.”
Mr. Hillman and Mr. Schneiderman explained the county is hesitant to remove the guardrails because of liability. Mr. Hillman added that the county would probably be willing to sell or give the road to the Town of Southampton, which could then choose to do with the road what it wishes.
Mr. Schneiderman said he would be in touch with Supervisor Throne-Holst and added it might not be out of the realm of possibility, considering Noyac Road was county-owned until Southampton Town took over responsibility for it a few years ago. But he added “the town might not want it.”
Conversation then turned to a complete redesign of the road, in an effort to make it as safe and pleasant as possible for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike.
North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander, Deputy Mayor Dianne Skilbred and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. brought up past traffic calming studies and suggested a similar study might be the answer for this particular stretch of road.
“Sometimes these things provide an opportunity to do something greater,” Mr. Thiele said, “in my opinion we should be looking at traffic calming for the entire quarter.”
Mr. Thiele said he and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle would look into funding for a large traffic calming study and redesign. “I hope this moves forward and we can come up with something we could all be proud of at the end of the day,” he said.
Mr. Hillman said he would see if any funds were available in the DPW’s capital program in order to conduct an initial study right away. Still, he said, this process would be very costly and would likely take three to four years.
“We’re willing to take a look at everything,” Mr. Hillman said. “There’s a legitimate safety concern.”