Another expansion of County Road 39 in Southampton is planned to reduce congestion on the South Fork.
The plan is to add a second eastbound lane to the 1.5-mile stretch between North Sea Road and Montauk Highway, and improve some of the intersections along the way.
County Executive Steve Levy, R-Bayport, announced the $4.5 million project during a press conference held at the side of County Road 39 on Friday, along with county planners and Legislator Jay Schneiderman, I-Montauk, the .
“This is our latest feature in our plan to expand our gateway to the South Fork,” Levy said Friday. “There is nothing that frustrates out residents more than having to sit in traffic unnecessarily.” He estimated it would shave 40 minutes off commuters' travel time.
The county also touted improved drainage, 6-foot-wide shoulders on both sides of the road, a continuous sidewalk, crosswalks, pedestrians signals, and a pedestrian walkway and gates at the Long Island Rail Road tracks.
The previous two phases of the restructuring of County Road 39, which added an eastbound lane and continuous turning lane to the 4.5-mile stretch between Sunrise Highway and North Sea Road, were completed in 2008. The extra lane significantly reduced traffic on the corridor. During peak summer traffic, an eastbound bottleneck where Sunrise Highway became County Road 39 would back up traffic for miles. What should have been a 15-minute drive to Southampton Village would take more than an hour.
While the extra lane alleviated traffic to the village — traffic studies said 40 percent of morning commuters heading east ended their journeys there — the bottleneck was moved further east. With this new expansion, it may move once again.
“There is no doubt there will be a bottleneck by , by the Princess Diner,” where County Road 39a meetings Montauk Highway, Schneiderman said. But he assured the expansion would still alleviate commuters’ pain.
“By moving that extra lane a little bit further east, I think you will give drivers more options if traffic is really backed up to get to where they are going,” he said
The total cost of all three phases is expected to amount to less than $20 million, saving $50 million compared to a previously proposed federal project that would have taken longer and required acquiring land, according to Levy’s office.
The county will seek federal reimbursement for some of the costs of the latest phase. Schneiderman said the federal government could reimburse 80 percent.
Levy said the projected completion date is prior to Memorial Day 2012, but it is partially contingent upon New York State Department of Transportation approvals, and the anticipated start date of post-Labor Day 2011.
Years from now the County Road 39 improvement would be looked back on as a major accomplishment of his administration and the legislature, Levy said. “It really does have an impact on people’s quality of life.”
Schneiderman said an additional benefit of the expansion is that it will make it easier to evacuate the South Fork in the event of a disaster.
East of County Road 39, the only major corridor is Montauk Highway, which, for most of its length to Montauk Point, has just one eastbound lane and one westbound lane. It is also a state road, and the county has no power to expand it.
“That state has always been loathe to do any kind of expansion out here,” Levy said. He also pointed out that Montauk Highway has a downtown feel that an extra lane could disrupt, while County Road 39 does not.
Schneiderman said he would like to a see an additional westbound lane added to the 1.5-mile stretch of County Road 39 — but that’s it.
“I don’t favor any additional widening beyond that point,” he said. “I don’t want to see it widen into Water Mill.”