Renewed Push For Sunrise Highway Exit Ramps At Speonk-Riverhead Road

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On nice days, John Montecalvo used to ride his bike from his home in Center Moriches to his family’s asphalt business in Speonk, traveling east along Old Country Road before turning north on Speonk-Riverhead Road. But that was close to a decade ago.The owner of Montecalvo Asphalt said he would not dare make that ride today because of the seemingly nonstop flow of highway-bound trucks, most of which are usually transporting full loads and either originating from or heading to his company and the other commercial businesses surrounding it.

Mr. Montecalvo is one of several business owners along the Speonk-Riverhead Road corridor who, for the better part of the last 21 years, have been calling for the installation of entrance and exit ramps to nearby Sunrise Highway, where it intersects with their thoroughfare.

“It would virtually eliminate the truck traffic and the college traffic from Old Country Road,” he said, explaining that, for now, drivers hauling heavy loads have no choice but to travel along secondary roads and through residential neighborhoods. “It just was not designed for this kind of traffic.”

Eric Thompson, the president of E.W. South Fork Mason Supply, is leading the reincarnation of this effort to have the ramps installed, gathering support over the past decade among other local business owners, public safety officials and representatives of the Suffolk County Community College’s eastern campus in Northampton, which is located along the same corridor but to the north of Sunrise Highway. Their plan is to eventually petition the State Department of Transportation, which would have to pay for the project, which is projected to cost $15 million.

Mr. Thompson, whose business is situated on Speonk-Riverhead Road, less than a mile from Sunrise Highway, said he has noticed a steady increase in traffic along the corridor in the past decade as the area has become more commercialized. He added that it is not uncommon to see three or four dozen trucks and tractor-trailers drive down the road in a single morning to pick up and deliver materials to the various businesses in the area, including sand pits, salvage companies and an earth recycling center.

“We’re all [a] maximum [of] 1,500 yards from the highway, and we can’t access it,” Mr. Thompson said of Sunrise Highway.

Cars and trucks traveling to and from businesses along the Speonk-Riverhead Road must now either exit Sunrise at County Road 111 in Eastport or pass their destinations and take the Old Riverhead Road exit in Westhampton—using Old Country Road as a go-between in each instance.

The steady flow of trucks also disturbs some residents who complain about the noise, congestion and danger created by the traffic. For some, highway access ramps seem like a clear solution to many of their problems, though others think it would only make matters worse.

April Meyer said the truck traffic makes pulling out of her mobile home community off Speonk-Riverhead Road hazardous, and many of the trucks are either too large to make the turn onto Old Country Road or do so recklessly. Ms. Meyer noted that six years ago a rock launched by the tire of a tractor-trailer struck and cracked the windshield of the car being driven by her husband, David.

She said would support any measure that would make the road safer around her house, adding that an entrance and exit ramp closer to them would be convenient as well.

“It would make things easier for us, that’s for sure,” Ms. Meyer said. “I just wish there would be something done at the end [of Speonk-Riverhead at Old Country roads]. Put a light there or widen the road.”

One man who lives off the road, but declined to give his name, said the constant truck traffic is concerning because he has two young children, and if one were to accidentally run out into the road, he doubts that some of the truck drivers would be able to stop in time. The man said he would like to see a ramp built to keep the trucks out of the residential neighborhoods.

Joseph Repp, who has lived on Old Country Road and directly across from the start of Speonk-Riverhead Road for the past 60 years, said something needs to be done about the increasing traffic in the area. But he does not think a highway ramp is the solution, stating that it will only result in more traffic.

As business development has steadily increased over the past two decades, Mr. Repp said he has watched as the tiny hamlet of Speonk has evolved into a bustling connecting point for people driving through on their way to Westhampton Beach and points east, as well as to the college and businesses on Speonk-Riverhead Road.

“Speonk is a small town, it always has been,” he said. “But it’s getting bigger with all the business developments, and the roads out here are not equipped to handle that. They’re outdated.”

Mr. Repp added that he has seen his fair share of crashes and near misses at the intersection that is located a few feet from his house over the years.

But Gwen Wells, who lives in the same mobile home community as Ms. Meyer, said she wants to see a ramp built for fire departments and ambulance services to use during emergencies. “It was promised to us years ago,” she said. “If there’s a fire or something along this road, there’s no way they could get here in time.”

Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance Chief Dave McClure said ramps there would be beneficial in terms of both response and transport times for patients who need immediate medical attention. Eastport Fire Department Chief Ryan King added that the installation of ramps would also make it easier for his department to respond to accidents on that stretch of Sunrise Highway, and could be crucial for responding to wildfires in that section of the pine barrens, where the Sunrise Wildfires of 1995 started.

Temporary ramps were set up at Speonk-Riverhead Road during those wildfires, Chief King explained, which were crucial as firefighters spent more than a week battling those blazes.

“This was a big push in the late ’90s after the wildfires, but it was blocked for some reason,” Chief King said of efforts to install ramps there. “It would definitely help us.”

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said ramps on Speonk-Riverhead Road would make it easier for swim teams and families to access an indoor pool that will eventually be built at the county college in Northampton. But Vanessa Baird-Streeter, the director of communications for Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone, said the county would not provide any funding to aid the construction of a ramp because Sunrise Highway is a state road.

The last serious push for the Speonk-Riverhead Road ramps came in 2009 when the State Department of Transportation conducted a study of the area at the request of State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor. According to that study, 244 cars would utilize the westbound exit ramp in the peak evening hours, while 224 would use the eastbound ramp in the morning rush.

With an estimated construction cost of $15 million, Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Eileen Peters said the numbers simply did not justify the expenditure. “The cost-benefit really has to be there,” she said. “All of those projects that we take on are based on priorities.”

Mr. Thiele said he suspects that those figures have gone up over the past four years, and that he would consider requesting another traffic study if enough local residents and business owners put the request in writing. He also noted that Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to be interested in making upgrades to the state’s infrastructure as a means of spurring the economy, so some state funding could eventually become available.

“That project is inevitable—I think it’s something that would be beneficial,” Mr. Thiele said of the ramps. “It is certainly something that I continue to have interest in that I would certainly be willing to get the Department of Transportation to look into again.”

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