Rush-hour traffic on County Road 39 and Montauk Highway is once again flowing smoothly on weekday mornings, thanks to increases in the length of time that two stoplights on the main artery remain green, Suffolk County engineers say.
Travel times on Sunrise Highway and County Road 39 between Hampton Bays and North Sea Road were cut by nearly a third between July 18 and August 1, according to the county’s chief engineer, Bill Hillman, after two adjustments to the timing of the traffic signals at the intersections with Tuckahoe Road and Magee Street.
Both lights are now green for at least four minutes at a time, almost double the minimum length of time they would remain green prior to July 18. They will not change to red at all if no cars are detected by magnetic sensors on the cross street intersections.
“On the 17th there were massive delays, and [last] Wednesday we cut the delay more than in half,” Mr. Hillman said on August 1. “I drove out there personally. Two weeks ago, I hit the backup at the canal at 7:15, and it took me 26 minutes to get to North Sea Road. Today, it took me 11 minutes, and … there was no backup at all by 7:54.”
Prior to July 18, the light at Tuckahoe Road would remain green for a minimum of only 125 seconds before turning red if there were cars waiting to cross or enter County Road 39. On July 18, in an effort to alleviate the long traffic backups that had started to slow County Road 39 and Montauk Highway since early spring, the green time was extended to 180 seconds. The backups continued, particularly between 7 and 8 a.m.
On July 26, the day after a fatal accident completely closed the roadway for nine hours and effectively halted traffic for most of the day, the green time on the Tuckahoe Light was extended to 240 seconds. Additionally, on July 26, the light at Magee Street was removed from the computerized controls that typically synchronize it with the signals at North Sea Road, North Main Street and David White’s Lane, and put on a four-minute green cycle for the morning hours.
After 9 a.m., the Magee Street light goes back into the computerized system and a 110-second green time.
When the lights are red, they remain red for no more than 60 seconds and, if no cars are detected by magnetic sensors on the cross streets, will switch back to green on County Road 39 immediately.
While the changes may have alleviated the backups for the time being, Mr. Hillman noted that the fact that they were necessary to ease the delays nods to a substantial uptick in commuter traffic.
Before the County Road 39 was widened from two lanes to four in 2008, the light at Tuckahoe Road had been set for a five-minute green time. After the widening was completed, that time had been cut to just over two minutes and traffic flowed well—until this year. Starting in the spring, the delays that slowed traffic to a snail’s pace, miles before Sunrise Highway turns into County Road 39, brought back bad memories of the days before the widening.
“So now we’re approaching that five-minute cycle again,” Mr. Hillman said. “We were way down from that and it was working well and now we’re almost back.”
Mr. Hillman said that the changes to the lights, to create more green time on County Road 39, do not appear to have had any impact on traffic on the cross streets either. Drivers may have to wait longer for the light to change, but all the cars waiting at each intersection have been getting through the light before it cycles back to green on County Road 39, Mr. Hillman said.
Engineers said the extended green cycles do not apply during the evening rush hour—and that they have started to hear complaints about backups developing in the westbound lanes west of North Sea Road, also a new phenomenon.
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who marshaled the effort to widen the road and speed morning commutes, said he would be asking engineers to examine the traffic patterns in the afternoons to see if there is a way to ease westbound backups that have developed in recent weeks.