Motorists approaching the Southampton Village area soon will be getting early warnings about major traffic tie-ups in hopes that they will be able to take alternate routes, or even postpone travel, to avoid the gridlocked snarls that have gripped local roads in recent years following major accidents on County Road 39.
The State Department of Transportation will provide the town with three electronic billboards, mobile signs that will be parked on the roadside of Montauk Highway and Sunrise Highway miles ahead of the Southampton bottleneck to warn commuters of accidents causing travel delays.
Two of the signs will be placed on Sunrise Highway, one just before the Westhampton exit and another at one of the two Hampton Bays exits, to give commuters a chance to get off the highway and, if possible, abort their trip to avoid adding to the traffic backups. A third sign will be placed to the east, in Sagaponack, to warn motorists driving west from East Hampton.
“The first one will really be for the people coming east on Sunrise, the second will be for the people who came down Flanders Road and have just gotten on to Sunrise,” the town’s transportation director, Tom Neely, said. “There has also been talk of using them for the special events that cause delays.”
The state DOT also has pledged to use existing alert signs on the Long Island Expressway to warn eastbound commuters of bad backups on the South Fork. Additionally, the town has subscribed to the county’s Code Red alert system that notifies subscribers of emergency situations with alerts sent to mobile phones.
The new mobile signs will be controlled remotely by technicians at the state DOT, who will be directed by local police about when to activate the signs and what they should say.
In each of the last two years, major accidents have forced hours-long closures of County Road 39 at the height of summertime rush hours, backing up traffic for miles—as far as Amagansett in the case of a 2012 afternoon accident—and trapping some commuters in gridlocked dead-stop traffic for as long as four hours. In response, town and county officials have tried to work out ways to shorten the closures of the roadway, but they say the need for careful investigation of fatal and possibly criminal incidents means that closures are inevitable along the South Fork’s main artery.