Traffic problems remain after a decade of improvement

A decade ago, Richard Spettell, who works at a financial firm based in New York City, would visit his house in Shinnecock Hills almost every weekend and ride his bike near Cooper’s Beach. On his way home, Spettell would ride though North Sea Road; turn left to Millstone Road, make a right in Shrubland Road, and finally enter County Road 39 finish his seventeen-mile ride without any issue.

That changed in May 2008.

After spending a month in the city, Spettell came back to Shinnecock Hills and tried to go for a ride again, but found no space for him and his bicycle on his way back.

“It was quite a perilous half-mile ride or so to the Lobster Inn at Inlet Road,” Spettell said.

To his surprise, Suffolk County just finished a four-mile expansion of County Road 39, one of the busiest corridors on the South Fork. The road’s shoulders were eliminated to add more lanes to alleviate the flow of traffic. Nearly 38,000 vehicles drive on County Road 39 every day, according to the New York Department of Transportation.

But even after the modification, and a second project which widened the remaining one-mile stretch of the road back in 2013, the morning commute remains a hassle for drivers like Jenny Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who travels from Nassau County to Southampton for work, encounters traffic jams from Monday through Friday.

“If I try to be here by seven I have to usually be up and out of the house by five o’clock,” Gonzalez, who works as a data entry clerk at the Town of Southampton Comptroller’s office, said. “If it’s a nice sunny day like it is today I’ll usually hit traffic by the time I hit East Quogue and then is usually bumper-bumper then. It’ll take me maybe about an hour, an hour-fifteen minutes just to get from East Quogue to [Southampton].”

The Town of Southampton has run a few tests to explore reducing traffic congestion in the past. Back in 2016, the traffic lights at the intersection of Tuckahoe Road and County Road 39 were switched to blinking lights from 6 to 9 a.m.

Left-hand turns from Tuckahoe Road to County road 39 were prohibited, as well as left-hand turns from County Road to Tuckahoe roads. The experiment simulated an underpass planned in the long term, but did not hit its goal of reducing ten minutes of commuting time.

“It was not an effective solution,” Thomas F. Neely, the Director of Public Transportation and Public Safety for Southampton, said. “It’s not being done again.”

Car accidents on County Road 39 hurt the business of stores along the road, Spettell said.

Joseph Lynn McAlla, a truck driver from Pennsylvania, was struck and killed while he was on his way to make a delivery at Southampton Masonry on April 5. The crash took place at 2:30 a.m. and shut down traffic in both directions.   

“I woke up at seven and heard a helicopter,” Monique Wisniewsqui-Santana, a resident who lives next door to Southampton Masonry, said. “The coroner’s truck was parked on the street and [they] were getting ready to bag him.”

Local police reopened the road at 9 a.m. after the body was removed.

“We lost four to five thousand dollars because of that,” Muhammad K. Nazir, the store manager of the 7-Eleven store, said.

Back in 2013, a car crash between Tuckahoe Lane and Tuckahoe Road closed the road for nearly 14 hours.  

“If the cars can be moved, we move them off the highway,” Susan Ralph, Southampton Town Police Lieutenant, said. “For serious accidents we have to shut down the entire roadway.”

Population growth also influence the traffic jams. According to the Long Island Index, an annual research report, the population of Long Island increased 0.7 percent from 2012 to 2013. The combined population of Nassau County and Suffolk County is 2.8 million, which is about 20 percent of New York’s total population, located in 3,546 square kilometers of land.

“Traffic grows from two to two and a half percent every year,” Neely said. “It’s kind of getting where it was [in 2008].”

There are no plans of improvements for CR 39 in the near future, but Neely said there is a project on the works that might help the morning commute without having to strip away businesses from a portion of their land for more road widening.

“We are planning for next February with the Long Island Railroad to run two trains east [from Speonk to Montauk] and two trains back,” Neely said. “Buses will pick people up and take them to their destinations.”

The project will be presented to the Southampton’s Town Board sometime in May. While there is already an agreement with the LIRR to add the two new train routes, Neely said, the details of the plan with the buses have yet to be worked out.