This time of year, the rush hour drives to and from the South Fork begin their seasonal crescendo, as more and more workers from points west begin readying summer houses to be opened for the year.
Southampton Town and Suffolk County are considering an experiment in mid-April to set the first traffic light en route to the Hamptons, at Tuckahoe Road by the entrance to Stony Brook Southampton, in blinking mode for three days during the morning rush hour, in an attempt to gather data on whether eliminating that light would shorten commute times.
The experiment would take place between 6 and 9 a.m. on April 19, 20 and 21.
The Southampton Town Board discussed the project at their Feb. 25 work session.
“As you know, this time of year it gets worse every day as we run up to Memorial Day, particularly with construction traffic,” said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.
Mr. Schneiderman, who served as Suffolk County Legislator for 12 years before becoming supervisor in January, helped start the experimental “Cops & Cones” program to allow two eastbound lanes of traffic on County Road 39 during the morning commute, which eventually lead to the full-time widening of the road.
Mr. Schneiderman said the county Department of Public Works has suggested that the light at Tuckahoe Road might be a contributor to the backlog of traffic still seen along the stretch of highway.
“It takes a lot of time to get 10,000 vehicles rolling again,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “There’s time wasted idling, and air pollution and noise associated with revving up again. It’s a compelling time to start studying this.”
County employees working on the project will take the eastbound drive during the morning commute on the week before the experiment to develop a baseline of how long it takes to drive the stretch of highway, and will then drive the route again while the Tuckahoe Road light is set to blink.
During the three-day trial, left hand turns wouldn’t be permitted from Tuckahoe Road onto County Road 39, and wouldn’t be allowed from the westbound lane of County Road 39 onto Tuckahoe Road southbound. Left-hand turns north onto Tuckahoe Road would be permitted, since they would be crossing the westbound lane, where the morning traffic flow is light. Drivers on Tuckahoe Road would not be allowed to drive straight through the intersection in either direction.
Two town police officers and a sergeant would stay at the intersection throughout the trial.
The county has estimated the project would cost them about $6,000 in overtime for county workers, which Mr. Schneiderman said he hopes the town can reimburse them for.
Mr. Scheiderman had pitched the project to the town board last year when he was still a county legislator, but that proposal had included the light at Magee Street/Tuckahoe Lane, which is around the corner from the Tuckahoe School.
School district representatives didn’t like that proposal, which would have made it difficult for school buses to get kids to school.
Tuckahoe School Board member Sean Hattrick said that the district is reluctantly willing to go ahead with the new trial program, but he will need to notify parents who bring their kids to school of where they can and can’t drive.
He cautioned that a permanent change to the traffic pattern at Tuckahoe Road could be very difficult for parents, especially during the afternoon rush hour.
“Getting to school in the morning is easier than getting home without the light,” he said.
But the town isn’t going to make any long-term decisions until after the April trial.
“I would personally like to see at least a 10 minute reduction in time,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who added that if the change in commute time is negligible, the town will nix the project.
If it does show a change in commute time, Mr. Schneiderman said the county will begin working on possible ways to eliminate that traffic light, while providing better access to both the college and the new Southampton Hospital expected to be built on the college grounds.
“If it’s successful, it gives us a brighter future,” said Councilman John Bouvier. “We have a traffic problem, no question about it.”
“A lot of people stuck in traffic are teachers, nurses and town employees,” added Mr. Schneiderman. “A lot of our work force is stuck in that traffic.”