An uptick in eastbound traffic over the last several weeks has not gone unnoticed by local officials, who are taking precautions to help improve the flow of vehicles, especially on County Road 39, before the summer traffic kicks into high gear.
While traffic has not been anywhere near its historic worst before County Road 39 was widened from two lanes to four in 2008, the Southampton Town Transportation and Safety office has received a steady number of complaints about backups on County Road 39 recently. The biggest issue, according to Tom Neely, director of the department, is simply that there is not enough capacity on local roads to accommodate the sudden influx of people, and that solutions are limited.
The lack of a resolution is little help to the thousands of East End employees and residents who have been stuck in the daily morning jam for the last few weeks. For Mary Pontieri, the district clerk at the Southampton School District, the only solution is to leave her home in Patchogue earlier each morning, with traffic at times adding 40 minutes to her daily drive east.
Mr. Neely said the biggest trouble spot is the eastbound lanes of County Road 39 during the morning rush hour. Fueling the problem is a combination of traffic lights, increased traffic on side streets, and vendors coming to the East End to prepare for summer, including landscapers, pool repairmen and contractors, compounded with the normal traffic generated by teachers and other East End employees.
“Basically, people are all talking about the congestion and the backups, hoping for answers,” Mr. Neely said. “I have also had a couple of comments about light signals in Hampton Bays. It’s this time of year.”
Although there is little his office can do about the number of cars and trucks on the roads, over the last few weeks Mr. Neely’s department has been checking to make sure all traffic lights are set to the correct timing, with signals at both the Tuckahoe Road intersection of County Road 39, and the Montauk Highway intersection of Canoe Place Road, set to the maximum of 255 seconds of green, or roughly four minutes.
The town has also informed state and Suffolk County officials that these signals need to have the maximum time allowed to ease the congested created when they trigger.
Calls to the Suffolk County Department of Public Works were not returned this week.
Mr. Neely said there are more cars on the roads than the East End can handle, and that too many cars on side streets can affect the timing on the main roads.
“Teachers and administrators that commute east are still in school, so they are commuting early in the morning, and that combined with the trade folks early in the morning is throwing everything off,” he said.
Ms. Pontieri’s normal commute typically takes approximately 45 minutes, but with the increase in traffic it now takes her about twice as long to get to Southampton from Patchogue. She has also been recording where the traffic starts on County Road 39, noting that last week she was 13.2 miles from the district office on Leland Lane when the traffic got bad, and roughly 14.4 miles the next day.
“Everyone is opening their houses for the summer,” said Ms. Pontieri, who passes the time in her car by listening to the radio. “I have been leaving earlier and earlier to get to work. It is the worst it has been in recent years, since the road was widened.”
For Southampton Intermediate School teacher and East Quogue resident Melissa Rogge, traffic appears to be starting earlier in the year now. Ms. Rogge said it used to pick up closer to Memorial Day. Her commute along Montauk Highway used to take her approximately 15 minutes, but has steadily grown longer. Now she leaves her house no later than 6:15 a.m. to get to the school at 6:45 a.m.
Any later, she said, and she is stuck in traffic.
“I take my route down Montauk Highway and you think that there must be construction or an accident or something, and then I come to the realization that it is just a nightmare and you sit there,” Ms. Rogge said.
Southampton Hospital spokeswoman Marsha Kenny said increasing traffic is just part of the annual tradition of working and living on the East End—and also one of the first signs of spring. It is not hurting daily operations at the hospital, with staff members doing their part to arrive on time, she said.
“It is always a rude awakening,” said Ms. Kenny, who lives in Remsenburg herself. “But then it sort of settles down and we accommodate by leaving a little earlier or later, but it hasn’t affected staffing in any way. Whoever works in Southampton has been stuck, I’m sure, at some point, whether it is on Montauk Highway or Sunrise Highway, and there is nothing we can do about it.
“There is no getting around it,” she continued. “We just have to grin and bear it.”
One thing that could help, Mr. Neely said, is a Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Council being formed by State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. Last week, the Southampton Town Board passed a resolution supporting the council, which will study ways to expand public transportation options in eastern Suffolk to reduce the number of cars on the roads.
“The real focus is going to be to increase public transit,” Mr. Thiele said. “Opportunities to increase highway capacity, particularly on the South Fork, are fairly limited. It seems that every time an improvement is made, within a few years that is all used up and we are back to the old delays. We are looking at all aspects of transportation, but our highway is at capacity and the amount of public transit is underutilized.”