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Jun 28, 2011 3:17 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

More Traffic for County Road 39 and Montauk Highway

Jul 6, 2011 9:39 AM

Traffic backups for morning commuters heading east into Southampton Village and points east, a common occurrence in the past, have again flared up occasionally this spring and early summer—and some drivers are taking notice.

“We head out here every day from Brookhaven—it’s been horrible lately,” said Steven Cummings of Berkoski Enterprises, one of several drivers who offered assessments during the morning rush hour on a recent Monday, having stopped at the 7-Eleven in Southampton for coffee. “It was smooth last year. It gets congested a lot after the Shinnecock Canal.”

“It’s still good getting to the merge,” said Mario Gutierrez of James H. Lynch Landscaping Services. But he added, “It’s getting worse.”

East End commuters have long dealt with gridlock where the double-lane Sunrise Highway previously merged into the single-lane County Road 39, and on the parallel Montauk Highway, which many commuters would switch over to when it looked like County Road 39 was backing up. Rush hour started speeding up again when in 2008 Suffolk County expanded much of County Road 39 from one to two lanes.

“Widening helped somewhat,” said David Mundib, a private security worker who drives in from Patchogue. “On a day-to-day basis, it’s still a heavily congested area,”

A recent uptick in traffic has been attributed to the recovering economy, but also to average increases in traffic that highway officials factor in when a roadway is built or expanded. The growth in traffic might be headed to the point where the expansion of County Road 39 is canceled out, and both County Road 39 and Montauk Highway once again have heavy traffic.

“There’s no doubt there’s more traffic than there has been in a while,” said County Legislator Jay Schneiderman. “Which I think is a good sign for the economy, that there are a lot of people coming out, a lot of construction traffic, getting homes ready for the summer season.”

The State Department of Transportation keeps tabs on daily traffic on Sunrise Highway between exits 65 and 66, right before the start of County Road 39. It’s also where drivers would see a busy road ahead and quickly head over to Montauk Highway.

Since 2004, in the summer there is an average of 23 percent more cars on the road than during the rest of the year—a total of 7,450 more vehicles each day. In recent years, summer traffic has grown at a faster yearly rate than annual traffic, making the difference between the summer and the rest of the year over time even greater.

The past couple of summers have gone against the norm with regards to traffic, mirroring the state of the economy. In 2009, summer traffic grew at a third of the rate of the previous year. In 2010, summer traffic actually went down by 10 percent. This year looks different: The most recent data from 2011, such as the 40,227 cars that have come through in the first three weeks of June—more than all of last July—indicate that the effectiveness of the new County Road 39 will be put to a frequent test.

Other factors can create the backups. For instance, the traffic light at Tuckahoe Road and County Road 39, which leads to the Stony Brook Southampton campus, is one of the main contributors to slowing down traffic. Right now, it is timed to be green for about four minutes, enough for 200 to 300 cars to get through, according to Tom Neely, the Southampton Town transportation and traffic safety director. Even a few hundred more cars could mean a slower, longer drive.

“It may be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Mr. Neely, who estimated that another 800 cars are heading east in the morning on County Road 39 than there were when the road was first expanded. “You’ve probably added a couple minutes worth of cars when that light is green. When that light is red, you’ve backed up a couple of hundred cars.”

Whether it’s a stronger economy or average annual growth, it’s looking like there will be more traffic than last year on County Road 39 and Montauk Highway, traffic that may only be starting to pick back up.

Many regular drivers on both roads say traffic for the most part is fine, though things can slow down during the morning drive to work.

“I never see it jammed back to the canal like it used to be,” said Thomas Tretola of Arbor Care by Treetola in Hampton Bays. “Now, you never see it anymore.”

“I haven’t noticed any difference at all,” said James Marengo of Pools by Gabe Gennarelli, who drives on County Road 39 three to four days a week. “I wouldn’t call it perfect.”

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