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Why Fix County Road 39 at the Height of the Summer?

Robert Sforza
Dan's Papers

Shuffling summer traffic east.
In the latest efforts to reduce congestion on County Road 39, titled Phase 3, the stretch of road spanning two miles from the intersection at North Sea-Mecox Road in Southampton Village to the Flying Point/Hampton Road intersection in the hamlet of Water Mill is being widened to facilitate traffic eastbound.
Construction began on July 30 after the county received its federal aid to begin the assignment. The federal aid is covering about 80% of the project’s cost.
“Phase 3 is our latest feature and I think this will help a lot because traffic moves through there,” says Legislator Jay Schneiderman, I-Montauk, the Chairman of the County Public Works and Transportation Committee. “This will be a great improvement on the traffic flow that bottlenecks up at the North Sea intersection.”
However, both locals and summer residents alike are perplexed as to why the construction would occur during the peak of the Hamptons summer season.
Although this is a county project and not a town undertaking, Alex Gregor, the Superintendent of Highways and Commissioner of Public Works in the Town of Southampton, informs that it was the availability of federal aid that prompted construction in the height of the summer season.
“There is no good time to do construction out here, especially before Labor Day is not an ideal time, but it has to be done when funding is available,” says Gregor.
The county was ready back in October of last year to begin its $4.5 million dollar construction project, but was delayed by tied-up federal funds until they finally became available in June.
“Although the timing isn’t as we had planned there will always be two lanes going east,” said Schneiderman.
The legislator informs that the center turning lane will be used as lanes shift while roadwork progresses; however, the center turning lane will be closed after Labor Day weekend in 2,000-foot intervals.
In 2008, a second eastbound lane was added to the four-mile stretch between the Sunrise Highway (State Route 27) in Shinnecock Hills and the intersection at North Sea–Mecox Road in the Village, which has greatly improved traffic flow up to North Sea–Mecox Road.
“I remember traffic backing up on Sunrise, where it was still a highway before the lights,” recalls Schneiderman. “I have hardly ever seen it backed up that far since.”
However, Phase 3 will not directly alter the perpetual traffic hindrance where County Road 39 meets Montauk Highway.
“There is no doubt there will be a bottleneck by Pier 1, by the Princess Diner,” where County Road meets Montauk Highway, Schneiderman said. But he assured the expansion would still alleviate commuters’ pain.
Once completed, the extra lane is estimated to shave up to 40 minutes off a commuter’s travel time. Incidentally, Southampton has readjusted the timing on the traffic light in downtown Water Mill, which the legislator believes causes much of the bottleneck after County Road 39 ends.
The goal is to upgrade County Road 39 so it is modernized to federal standards.
“We hope one day 39 will be built to a much higher standard, federal standards, but it will cost nearly $70 million to complete,” says Schneiderman. “So it is certainly—no pun intended—down the road.”
Federal standards call for a lane’s width to be a minimum of 12 feet, light reflectors on road markers, adequate lighting, a bike lane, a sidewalk, and an appropriate shoulder for emergencies.
“Phase 3 is a big project because it includes many things like adding an extra lane, a bike lane, a sidewalk and lighting, among other things, not including reconstructing the railroad crossing,” said Schneiderman.