It was just before Halloween, when all things were spooky and sinister, that East Hampton Village gained four of what some might call “garish” traffic signs within its historic district.
Without alerting village officials, the Long Island Rail Road engineering department replaced its warning signs on either side of the railroad trestle that crosses over both Accabonac Road and North Main Street with flashing, solar-powered LED signs. Now brightly blinking, the signs brazenly warn truck drivers of the trestle’s height limitations.
According to Village Administrator Becky Molinaro, village officials noticed the high-tech, attention-grabbing signs right away and contacted the LIRR about replacing them with something a little more suited to East Hampton’s historic character.
Ms. Molinaro said this week that the LIRR has a right of way within a certain distance from the tracks and can put whatever it likes there, but that the signs just don’t cut it.
“We’re not disputing the fact [that the LIRR has their right of way]. We just don’t like the design,” she said.
Each sign is a yellow diamond-shape with a small solar panel on the back. The LED lights flash all day and through the night to alert truckers to watch their tops.
According to Salvatore Arena, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the signs are meant to deter potential damage to the trestles.
“A bridge strike with a high impact has the potential to derail a train, and that has the potential to cause loss of life,” he said on Tuesday. “During the last year, the LIRR engineering department has replaced over a dozen existing advance warning signs with the new solar-powered advance warning signs. These new LED signs are our new standard, designed to improve safety.”
According to East Hampton Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen, over a three-year period, there have been 18 accidents on Accabonac Road at the trestle and five accidents at the North Main Street. Of those 23 accidents, only one has occurred at nighttime.
Ms. Molinaro said that the LED lights don’t really accomplish what the LIRR says they do.
“Mainly our issue are the lights, and anecdotally, even at night when they are blinking, all you see are the lights, you’re not looking at the sign itself,” she said.
Even though the signs shine on at North Main Street, the lights on the two signs at the Accabonac Road trestle have gone out—the day after their installation, the solar panels were reported “stolen,” according to Mr. Arena. He said the LIRR will be replacing the LED lights.
Ms. Molinaro said, however, that she is still working with the LIRR’s principal engineer of structures, Paul Jones, to rectify the situation and find a more suitable sign design. She said the only other places on Long Island that have the LED signs are in Westbury, Garden City and Queens.
At a Village Board meeting on Thursday, Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. expressed the village’s distaste for the signs.
“If anybody sees Christmas lights that are powered by solar panels, please let us know,” he said, joking about the missing pieces. “The bottom line is that [the signs] are in the threshold of the historic district and it’s so arbitrary that it takes away from the decorum and quiet application of the historic district. Hopefully we’ll be able to come back to you and say we were successful. I’m cautiously optimistic.”