Southampton Town, Suffolk County To Try Out Yellow Light Plan To Ease Traffic

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Southampton Town and Suffolk County officials are developing a pilot program to test the effectiveness of converting two traffic lights on County Road 39 into flashing yellow lights for eastbound motorists during morning rush hour to help commuters.

A date has not yet been selected for the program to start. The plan was proposed last week by Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman. It was approved for a one-week trial by County Chief Engineer Bill Hillman, and town and county officials are working out final details before it can be implemented.

Southampton Town Police would be authorized to switch a pair of county-operated traffic lights on County Road 39—at Tuckahoe Lane, near the Stony Brook Southampton campus and the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, and farther east at Magee Street—to yellow flashing lights in the morning to prevent stop-and-go traffic that typically occurs in spring. From there, officers stationed at the two intersections would be able to manually stop traffic to occasionally allow cars on the side streets to make right turns onto County Road 39. The flashing yellow lights would be in effect from 6 to 7:30 a.m. weekdays, and drivers would not be able to make left turns from Tuckahoe and Magee streets onto County Road 39.

“I am anticipating that traffic will, in general, get worse every day up until Memorial Day,” Mr. Schneiderman said on Monday. “In terms of actual execution of the plan, it would be based on the county schematic, but the town would be running the program—and they are just not ready to execute yet.”

The two intersections already have two of the longest green lights in the county, holding for as long as four minutes for eastbound and westbound traffic during rush hour periods. In the spring of 2013, after long backups led to outrage from commuters, the county extended the green cycle of the lights from 125 seconds to 240 seconds. The lights do not turn red at all unless a car stops at the cross-street intersections.

According to Mr. Hillman, while the town will be implementing the program using Town Police, the county will monitor the traffic flow during the one-week period. Based on previously collected data detailing the traffic delays around the two clogged intersections, the Department of Public Works will be able to see if it’s working.

“If there is any improvement, then, great—and, hopefully, we will be able to figure out a way to continue to do it,” Mr. Hillman said. “If it is successful in reducing the queue, then we are ahead of the game, because it won’t build up as much. But right now, by 6:30 a.m., it is already tough, and it backs up to [County Road] 104 by 7:30 a.m. So, right now, what we are trying to do is gauge whether this will work so we could expand it in the future.”

“If we can take even 20 minutes off the delays, we are viewing that as worth the effort,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “That is how we are measuring success.”

According to Mr. Schneiderman, the program was originally intended to be implemented this week but has been postponed because the town would prefer to be indemnified against any issues that could result from the program, and is working on a way to make that happen. Mr. Schneiderman said he believes that will involve a permit from the county authorizing the temporary change.

One snag in the timing: He estimates it could take several weeks for the permit to be in place.

Ms. Throne-Holst was not available for comment.

Staff reporter Michael Wright contributed to this story.

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