- A Starbucks
beckons on one side of the road while a Burger King calls out to hungry motorists traveling in the opposite lane. The traffic is generally stalled bumper-to-bumper or whizzing by at a harrowing speed. In either case, the motorist in search of a burger or hot cup of coffee has a hard time getting safely off the road and into a parking lot.
This could be any road anywhere in the country. In Southampton, the gateway that directs motorists into the heart of The Hamptons
is dubbed County Road 39 or CR-39 for short. Like other main transportation corridors constructed across the county, CR-39 has posed a challenge to traffic engineers and land planners as businesses have sprouted up on both sides of the heavily trafficked thoroughfare giving rise to thriving highway business zones as well as roadside suburban sprawl, traffic congestion and highway fatalities.
The 35 mph speed limit, while helpful in terms of safety, is difficult to enforce as
motorists frequently travel 45 mph or more along portions of the road.
These conditions have created a nightmare for motorists and planners alike. This month, a new ad hoc advisory committee began to take shape in Southampton to study the future development of the CR-39 corridor. The committee, composed of town residents and civic leaders, will work in conjunction with professional planners hired by the Town of Southampton to chart future development along the roadway. Meanwhile, a town imposed building moratorium remains in place until August 2009. The moratorium has effectively halted all development along the CR-39 corridor for the year as a means of allowing planners to reassess conditions created by the recent road widening and current development.
The planners and the committee members will address land use issues rather than traffic concerns along the road used by an estimated 38,000 motorists a day during peak summer commuting hours.
The CR-39 moratorium was unanimously approved by the five-member town board in August 2008 as residents concerns over future development mounted. A proposal to build a large King Kullen
supermarket in a Tuckahoe development project has been halted, along with other development plans, while the town takes time to rethink its planning and zoning policies for the land located on either side of the road.
, chairman of the Shinnecock Southampton Tuckahoe Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) attended the organizational meeting noting his CAC is very concerned about the future development of the CR-39 corridor. "We hope future meetings will focus more on the land use issues once the advisory task force is fully organized," Zappone said, noting the CAC's goal was to see a more orderly development plan put into place along CR-39.
The Lobster Inn may soon become a waterfront condominium complex as a result of traffic rerouting that has hindered business at the popular eatery.
"The town's master plan calls for hamlet centers not strip mall development," Zappone commented, noting the process of development along both sides of the heavily trafficked road was a dynamic process. "We have to look at future building projects as well as the eventual rebuilding and replacement of the existing structures along the road."
Zappone cited the lack of architectural conformity as one of the main points that needed to be addressed as the town looked at future development.
The moratorium area runs from the Lobster Inn to the Princess Diner, located at the intersection of CR-39 and Montauk Highway at the well-traversed turn-off where motorists get caught in bumper to bumper traffic heading east as cars roll off CR-39 on to the two lane Montauk Highway and continue on their eastward journey.
Traffic congestion at this intersection as well as on CR-39 has been at issue for more than 30 years when residents rallied against plans to widen the Sunrise Highway and create by-pass roads that would take eastbound traffic off the two lane Montauk Highway and avoid congestion by "by-passing" hamlet centers.
"Back then the theory
was "if you build it
they will come," so they didn't widen the roads," Ryan Horn, a chief legislative aide to Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot
said, "and they came anyway."
Businesses, strip malls and shopping centers line both sides of the busy road leading
into Southampton where construction is underway for new business expansion.
The Lobster Inn, a well-known roadside restaurant located at the western end of CR-39, has been affected by traffic conditions that have left the owner of the waterside restaurant considering developing the property into a condominium rather than fight the traffic pattern that encourages motorists to pass by the restaurant citing a dramatic reduction in business as a result of the new traffic pattern.
Residential properties also line a portion of the 5.7 mile stretch of road and homeowners have voiced concern over the now nerve-wracking proposition of entering and existing their driveways. These homeowners have two choices, either to inch out of their driveways in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or pull out on to the road quickly as they catch an opening in the moving traffic. The problem is compounded by the number of hidden driveways along the road and driveways that descend from hilly locations where visibility is a problem.
"The speed limit is part of the problem," Horn noted. "Some people think 45 mph is a more realistic speed limit." Horn contends the 45 mph limit is borne out by traffic studies that indicate the road can be traversed safely at that speed. Many residents disagreed advocating the 35 mph limit. Horn noted it is difficult if not impossible for police to enforce the 35 mph speed limit now in effect on CR-39. "It's not really safe to pull over," Horn said explaining law enforcement's dilemma. CR-39 has also been the site of several highway fatalities and numerous accidents.
Traffic funnels on to Montauk Highway from County Road 39 and Hampton Road, carrying motorists from the village and points west to points east.
However, according to town officials, there have been no fatalities on CR-39 since the road widening, a fact that remains unconfirmed by town police. Volunteer ambulance respondents who have joined the ad-hoc committee also pointed to improved safety and fewer accidents since the widening of the road.
According to Horn who is participating in the formation of the ad-hoc study committee, there are few remaining parcels on either side of CR-39 that have not already been developed. "The first meeting was very underwhelming. The whole thing is still in the cocktail napkin stage," Horn commented.
The Ad Hoc Task Force Committee has tentatively set its next meeting for Thursday, Dec. 4. Anyone wishing to participate is encouraged to contact Town Hall for further information.