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Dec 13, 2011 11:02 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board Discusses County Road 39 Upgrades

Dec 13, 2011 5:28 PM

A plan to widen the remaining stretch of County Road 39 will kick off later than expected, starting this spring—on the eve of the East End’s most frenzied traffic season.

Traffic lanes will remain open throughout the project, which will add another lane of traffic to County Road 39 eastbound from North Sea Road to Montauk Highway in Water Mill. The work, which is being funded by Suffolk County and the federal government, was originally expected to begin this fall, but the start has now been delayed to sometime in May or June, according to Bill Hillman, chief engineer at the Suffolk County Department of Public Works. He spoke to the Southampton Town Board at a work session on Friday.

Officials expect that the project will take about a year to complete, with most of the work to be completed before next winter.

The county’s hands are tied regarding the time line, explained Mr. Hillman, who said it is largely dictated by the bidding process for the project, which he said involves two layers of government, New York State and the federal government. The State Department of Transportation is charged with administering the federal funds, said Town Public Transportation and Traffic Safety Director Tom Neely.

On Friday, Town Board member Nancy Graboski expressed concern that the project would seriously impact traffic during the town’s busiest season.

“I know that sector of the road like the back of my hand,” she said. “I guess I probably drive that twice a day every day, if not more than that. There so much traffic here in the summertime, and it’s not just the traffic that’s the concern but it’s the movement of emergency vehicles as well. I just think it’s going to be very difficult.”

Members of the Water Mill Citizens Advisory Committee are asking the county to abandon the widening project for a number of reasons, according to a recent letter penned by Rachel Verno, the chairwoman of the group. The citizens group believes it makes more sense for the county to reconsider the project and add a second lane on the westbound side of County Road 39 instead of eastbound. They said they’re concerned the new eastbound lane would only exacerbate the already congested intersection of Flying Point Road, County Road 39 and Montauk Highway. The group also charged that the county failed to meet with residents to ask them if it would negatively affect their quality of life

Mr. Hillman responded to some of those concerns at the work session after being prompted to do so by Ms. Graboski. He said the county has studied the option and decided that adding an additional lane on the westbound side of the road would be “wasting” the roadway, since there isn’t enough traffic coming out of Water Mill to support two westbound lanes. Adding an eastbound lane makes more sense, he said. “So you just get a better bang for your buck,” he said.

All told, the project will cost $6.5 million, said Mr. Hillman. That price is up from projections of $4.5 million to $4.7 million earlier this year. Part of the reason the cost grew and the project stalled could be because there is more work required near railroad tracks located within the project area, Mr. Neely said.

The project was originally expected to be completed just before Memorial Day and the start of the summer season.

Mr. Hillman said that while work is being done, three lanes—eastbound, westbound and the center turning lane—will be open, for the most part. There are some exceptions, he said. Between the start of the project and Memorial Day, the normal lane configuration will remain intact. From Memorial Day to July 3, the contractor will need to close the center turn lane on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Three lanes will be maintained on Mondays and Fridays, the busiest days of the summer weeks, he said. From July 4 until Labor Day, three lanes will be open, unless the contractor asks for a waiver from the county to complete work that is critical to the progress of the project.

The project is considered a continuation of the widening of a 4.5-mile stretch of County Road 39 completed in 2008. In addition to the planned widening of the road, the project also calls for the addition of a continuous sidewalk along the south side of the highway; new pedestrian safety features, such as pedestrian push buttons and crosswalks at intersections; additional warning signs and lights and a pedestrian walkway and gates at the Long Island Rail Road crossing; and re-striping. It also calls for intersection improvements at David Whites Lane, including a new southbound left-turn lane, and continuous 6-foot-wide shoulders on both sides.

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