County Road 39 opens

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East Hampton employers might notice their workers who commute from west of the Shinnecock Canal arriving on time starting this week, as construction of a second eastbound lane on County Road 39 in Southampton wrapped up and was slated to officially open today, April 9.

The new lane is designed to eliminate the bottleneck in Southampton where Sunrise Highway (Route 27) becomes County Road 39.

This morning, Suffolk County and Southampton Town officials were to formally open the new lane, which stretches four and a half miles and connects Sunrise Highway to Montauk Highway east of Southampton Village.

“Since County Road 39 is the gateway to the East End, we want to make sure people can get there quickly and safely,” County Executive Steve Levy said Tuesday.

This permanent fix to traffic congestion on County Road 39 replaces the “cops and cones” program, in which traffic cones were used to turn the left turning lane of the busy highway into a second eastbound lane during the morning commute in the summer.

The “cops and cones” program was first used in the summer of 2006. In August 2007, when county officials decided to continue it into October, they warned that the move could delay completion of the planned new lane because construction was scheduled to begin right after Labor Day. But the lane is opening today, seven weeks ahead of schedule.

“We came in within budget and well in advance of our deadline,” Mr. Levy said. “That’s a rarity in government.”

Including the widening of the bridge over St. Andrews Road, the entire County Road 39 expansion will cost about $15 million, Mr. Levy said. The project was slated to be completed by Memorial Day, but the contractors were promised that if they finished early, they would receive a $25,000-a-day bonus for up to 25 days.

“It’s obvious that the incentives that we gave to the contractor worked,” Mr. Levy said. The county’s Public Works Department will determine the amount of the bonus, he explained.

There are still “odds and end” that need to be completed, such as lane marking and shrubbery planting, but the touch-ups will not interrupt traffic flow, Mr. Levy said, adding, “The worst of it is over.”

Mr. Levy predicted the project will be seen as a highlight in the county government’s history. The Public Works Department in particular, he said, should be credited for taking a plan that was projected to cost $70 million and designing a way to do it for $15 million. One way the county reduced costs was with a pre-fabricated arch for widening the bridge over St. Andrews Road. The pre-fab arch allowed construction to continue without closing the bridge, and it serves as a prototype for future bridges, Mr. Levy said.

“We are very happy that this project will be completed before the busy summer season,” he added. “There are few things that improve people’s quality of life more than taking big chunks off of their commute time.”

Though construction will be finished, the South Fork Commuter Connection—special trains the Long Island Rail Road added between Speonk to Montauk, and connecting buses provided by Southampton and East Hampton towns—will continue as scheduled until May 23.

The shuttle service was designed so commuters could avoid construction delays in Southampton, but its popularity with teachers and others have officials including State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. pushing for the service to return in the fall.

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