Commuting

Conditions of the southern state parkway catch the attention of local politicians

By Darwin Yanes

Francisco Rivera turns the key to his Acura MDX. He pulls out of his driveway and cruises for five minutes until he reaches exit 20 of the Southern State Parkway in Baldwin. He takes the entrance ramp and swerves out of the way of a pothole and accelerates. But suddenly, he has to step on his breaks as he sees a pool of cars in front of him.

As he slowly realizes that he’s going to be late to work, he begins to regret his decision to take the Southern State Parkway.

In the aftermath of a commercial bus accident that injured 44 people earlier this month, the conditions of the Southern State Parkway are on full display. The bus hit an overpass in Lakeview that was marked to be 7 feet 10 inches tall, but actually measured  7 feet 7 inches tall. Even though no one was killed, the Southern State Parkway has been one of the most dangerous parkways in New York State.

“In the last month, 548 property damage collisions, 157 injury collisions, and 1 fatality totaling 706 were reported,” State Trooper Daniel Ahlgrim said.

The bus accident and the conditions of the parkway have caught the attention of New York State Senator John E. Brooks. He has recently drafted up a bill that would introduce a low cost solution to the clearance exit dilemma.

“It is with immediate urgency that we encourage the expedited installation of the remaining eight sensors that would notify the driver that the height of the vehicle does not meet the needed clearance requirements for the overpasses on the roadway,” Brooks wrote  in a recent letter to the Department to Transportation. “We must take immediate steps to improve safety…and consider additional safety measures, such as clearance bars at the entrance ramps, which would be a low-cost supplement to the ongoing program.”

Local politicians such as Laura Gillen, Supervisor of the Town of Hempstead, Legislator Debra Mule, and Assemblywoman Michaelle C. Solages have expressed their support for the bill. “I think we need to do whatever we can to make the roads safe for everybody….the bill makes perfect sense,” Mule said.

The installation of the sensors cost the state around 4 million dollars, but they did not take into account other road conditions such as potholes, hills, and sharp turns. Rivera, like many other Long Islanders, commutes daily to his job in Levittown.

The clearance bars proposed by Brooks would run around $400 and would alert truck drivers in order to prevent them from hitting overpasses according to Brooks. The clearance bars are less costly than the sensors put in place in different parts of Long Island. There are still eight sensors left that need to be installed with half on them pertaining to the Southern State Parkway.

“I usually sit in traffic for 25 to 30 minutes and that’s only from Baldwin to Levittown,” Rivera said. “ I have to take back streets in order to get to work on time.”

The Southern State Parkway was originally built in the 1920s and the engineers did not anticipate the high population on Long Island. The parkway was also created with low overpasses to prohibit buses. The engineering on roads have not been updated in several years. With many homes built around the road, it would be difficult to expand, Brooks said.

The roadways have certain areas that are plagued with potholes and sharp turns. The potholes can cause damages that can cost more than 1 thousand dollars in repairs, depending on the make and models of the cars. The speed limit of the parkway is 55-mph but is often ignored.

“When a car hits a pothole the suspension and tires are most likely to have collision damage. The repairs can reach up to  10 thousand dollars depending on the cars,” Selvin Sanchez, a mechanic at West John Auto, said. Sanchez says that car accidents on the Southern State Parkway happen because of  rough roads and bad drivers.

“Troop L motor vehicle crash records indicate that impaired driving, excessive speed, and characteristically aggressive behaviors, such as failure to yield, following too closely, improper passing and unsafe lane changes, continue to be the predominant causes of crashes particularly on the Parkway System,” Trooper Ahlgrim said.

Speeding with the road conditions make the Southern State even more dangerous.

“I was driving and his car was on fire but the driver wouldn’t pull over, so I had to cut him off and pull him out.Marino Sannuti, resident of Nassau County said. He is aware of the tough conditions but he attributes bad drivers to the accidents as well.

The New York State Department of Transportation completed a study in 2016 that found that within a five-year span, more than 10,500 accidents occurred on the Southern State Parkway, over 3,000 of which involved injury, and 32 were fatal, according to Brooks. However, no major changes were made to the structure of the roads.

“At the conclusion of the [bus] investigation, NYDOT will look at additional options to maximize public safety,” Joe Morrissey, spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, said.

In 2017, Senator Brooks and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages proposed a bill that would have the NYDOT conduct a safety study of the Southern State parkway. The bill also asked the state transportation department to identify possible sources of funding to help upgrade signs, lengthen ramps and improve other engineering problems on the road.

The bill was referred to the department of transportation and is currently waiting to be scheduled for a vote.

“Accidents occur more frequently on the Southern State Parkway on Long Island due to its outdated engineering,” Solages said in a statement. “This technology exists, let’s not nickel and dime the safety of our fellow New Yorkers.”

The passengers in the commercial bus accident and commuters like Rivera will remain subjects of the conditions of the Southern State Parkway if no changes are made.