Traffic Trouble: East End Road Worries Rise Ahead of Summer

cars stopping at a traffic light
cars stopping in front of a red traffic light, with red lighted brake lights

Traffic. It’s a perennial gripe among East End drivers who must endure the slow vehicular crawl and view of endless brake lights before arriving at the beach. But this year, it appears worse.

That’s because many New York City residents fled to the Hamptons and North Fork to escape the coronavirus, resulting in more year-round residents on the roads beyond the normal summer peak season—and more service vehicles driving around to cater to those added residents. The local rush of service vehicles hitting the roads after quitting time is so noticeable it’s been locally coined as the trade parade.

“We are trying to figure out a way to have some more seamless traffic,” Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren said at the April 20 board meeting, noting that his team has been in touch with the Suffolk County Department of Public Works. “As anyone knows when you’re driving from East Hampton all the way to western Suffolk, you’ll be sitting in traffic, especially after 4:30.”

Traffic is not only frustrating. It can also mean life or death. Preliminary data for 2020 show that more than 40,000 people died in vehicle crashes nationwide, which makes for the largest year over year percent increase in traffic fatalities since 1924, according to the National Safety Council. Vehicle maintenance—especially regarding fluid checks, belt examinations, tire pressure and battery service—after long periods of no driving is critical to safety, warns the American Automobile Association.

Many people globally are still working from home, but weekend driving patterns show motorists are leaving the house more frequently, with weekend congestion in numerous cities surpassing 2019 levels for the first time since the pandemic started. In the United States, the world’s largest economy, gasoline demand is at 9.1 million barrels per day, highest since last August, according to U.S. EIA figures. The country accounts for 31% of global passenger vehicle road fuel demand, according to Rystad Energy. With more than one-quarter of the population fully vaccinated, Americans are getting out more.

With pent-up demand for families looking to go on vacation after a year of being cooped up in the house amid a historic global pandemic, resort communities such as the Twin Forks are bracing for a comeback tourism season. Besides vehicle maintenance and traffic studies, road repairs can at least make the roads less dangerous.

New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) recently noted that the state Department of Transportation is preparing to resurface a five-mile stretch of Route 27 from Montauk Point to downtown Montauk and upgrade sidewalk curb ramps to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements starting later this year.

“I have long advocated for this resurfacing project that will enhance the safety and mobility of all travelers, and look forward to its completion,” he said.

Sometimes dealing with the traffic on the East End can feel like a game of whack-a-mole.

“I get concerned that whenever we do something to prohibit movements on one road, they end up on another road,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said during a recent board meeting in which residents complained about large commercial trucks cutting through side streets to avoid traffic—violating weight limits on local roads in the process. “The answers aren’t always so clear.”

He too noted this time of year is especially troublesome.

“County Road 39 doesn’t move that fast with all of the lights,” he said. “The demand for commercial vehicles, particularly as we run up to Memorial Day, is always tremendous this time of year. It’s always really bad.”

Residents urged the town to have local police enforce the ban on overweight trucks on certain roads to alleviate some of the safety concerns, calling it a “quality of life issue.” 

Of course, complaints about traffic on Twin Forks roads date back decades. 

“Somebody once said you could paper all of city hall with the amount of traffic management plans we have in there, but I don’t think any of them have solved it yet,” Sag Harbor Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy previously told Dan’s Papers. “We need to try to get one that is solvable, that we can start doing, and it’s a little chicken-and-egg because we don’t have the budget, so we have to look at revenue like paid parking or things like that to be able to get the budget a little bit bigger. We’ll see how the summer works. We will make some money, and we’ll see what makes sense. Then we’ll at least be able to use it as seed money for some studies.”

What can East End drivers do until a solution is found? Hurry up and wait.

-With Reuters

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