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South Setauket Intersection Proposal Yields Debate Over Safety, Convenience

Residents' reactions mixed over the proposed changes at the intersection of Nicolls Road and Hawkins Road.

A small group of local residents and commuters on Monday questioned Suffolk County's plans to reconfigure the intersection of Nicolls Road and Hawkins Road in South Setauket as part of a $4 million project to enhance safety and traffic flow on one of the county's busiest roadways.

At an informational meeting on Monday night at Suffolk Community College, the heart of the debate focused on a proposal to eliminate drivers' ability to cross eastbound through the intersection of Hawkins Road over Nicolls Road or make a left hand turn there. Some said drivers would be forced to drive out of their way to the closest other intersection at Mark Tree Road in order to head north on Nicolls Road.

"Eliminating the ability to go from the west side of Hawkins across Nicolls Road is a major inconvenience to the people who live on the southwest side of Nicolls Road," said Jay Steiner, a Centereach resident for 22 years. "They're going to have to go around to Mark Tree. The [Middle Country] school district's going to have to re-route all the school buses that go that way."

Catherine Brennan, an eight-year resident of South Setauket, said the plans will diminish her family's quality-of-life.

"It will NOT reduce traffic, it will actually increase traffic," she said in an email to Patch. "All the residents on Tree Road, Eastwood Blvd., and all those houses south of me on Hawkins Road will now have to come past my house in order to get to Mark Tree Road to cross Nicolls Road. ... It actually now terrifies me for the safety of my children will now be at even greater risk with the thought of hundreds of additional cars passing my house daily."

But not everyone was opposed to the plan. Joe Galdi, a 26 year resident of Centereach, called the current configuration "a nightmare situation" in which he sometimes sits for 20 minutes trying to get through the intersection. He said he once saw an accident there in which a car had flipped.

"Clearly something's got to be done," he said. "From looking this over and having the explanations here, I think it makes sense. ... There's probably little tweaks they should make based on the input they're getting, but on the whole, I think it will solve the situation."

Bill Hillman, Suffolk County's chief engineer, defended the proposal, saying "there's sound engineering reasons for doing it." He said not only will it enhance safety in the area, but it will also ease capacity problems.

"When you have a capacity problem, you inherently have safety issues," he said. "People do things they shouldn't be doing because they get frustrated. When you solve capacity problems, you also solve safety problems."

But if it turns out it doesn't work, he said, "we can go back to the original configuration."

Brookhaven councilwoman Kathy Walsh, in whose council district the intersections sit, called that region of Centereach and South Setauket "a complicated area."

"When you're changing the pattern that people follow every day, they become a little bit upset," she said. "But in the end we have to be open minded to the changes that need to happen. The road was designed when there was much less traffic in the area."

Walsh said Brookhaven Town is evaluating the county's plan, but hasn't given final comments on it yet. A lot of thought has to be given to the movement of the traffic in the area, she said.

"We have some things we would like to see done on our roadways but we have been waiting to see what the county was going to come in with as a final plan, so we could kind of marry the two plans together and not spend money to have to redo something," she said.

According to Hillman, approximately 100,000 cars pass through this area on Nicolls Road each weekday. Eventually, he said, red light cameras may be considered at these intersections. He also said the county has been researching changes to these intersections for nearly a decade.

"We finally came up with something we feel will work," he said.

Traffic signal upgrades are proposed for all three locations. In addition, a number of other changes are being discussed.

Among the proposed changes at Nicolls Road, Wireless Road and Hawkins Road:

  • The addition of a second lane in both directions on Wireless Road in the vicinity of Hawkins Road and Nicolls Road;
  • An acceleration lane and relocated sidewalk on Hawkins Road;
  • A second left turn lane on southbound Nicolls Road;
  • Realignment of the left turn lane on northbound Nicolls Road;
  • ADA pedestrian ramp, crosswalk, sidewalk and signal equipment spanning Nicolls Road.

Among the proposed changes at Mark Tree Road and Nicolls Road:

  • An extension of the right turn lane on southbound Mark Tree Road;
  • The addition of a second left turn lane on both north- and southbound Mark Tree Road;
  • Realignment of left turn lane on northbound Nicolls Road;
  • Extension and realignment of the right turn lane on northbound Mark Tree Road.

Among the proposed changes at Hammond Road and Nicolls Road:

  • ADA pedestrian ramp, crosswalk, sidewalk and signal equipment spanning Nicolls Road;
  • Addition of a second left turn lane from Hammond Road onto Nicolls Road;
  • Extension of the right turn lane from Hammond Road onto Nicolls Road.

Those who were not in attendance at the meeting can still log comments with the county by writing to Bill Hillman, chief engineer, 335 Yaphank Ave., Yaphank, NY 11980.

Alicia Palifka January 16, 2013 at 02:55 PM
Had Enuf..I agree
Jen O. January 16, 2013 at 06:49 PM
If they eliminate the ability to turn left from Wireless onto Nicoll's Road Southbound it will cause a back-up on Mark Tree Road, Pond Path and 347 for all the people that work in the Stony Brook Hospital related offices in East Setauket that are heading towards the Expressway to go home. It is already a mess with double lights at Wireless that box people in between Hawkins and Nicolls. Also, the left turn lane is messed up on wireless, so every day I see people driving on the wrong side of the road trying to get through the light at Hawkins to make the left on Nicolls. I have even seen school buses doing this. Maybe straightening out the timeing of the two traffic lights would eleviate some of these problems. I don' t eliminating access is the answer.
John January 17, 2013 at 12:56 AM
The right way is an overpass over 347! Originally proposed in 1967! Stop the nimby! BS!
John Francis January 18, 2013 at 05:35 PM
They have the space there.... They need to build an overpass.
Bill Goodman January 18, 2013 at 06:54 PM
I have my doubts about these proposed changes too, which no doubt will have unintended side effects that some have already alluded to above. And I'm still waiting for the supposed improvements to Nicolls Road farther south to make a difference! Traveling past Suffolk Community College is often a hassle because of the signal right in front of the college. First, it often turns red in the middle of the night when no one is leaving or entering the front gate! Second, because of that signal, nobody ever maintains speed going southbound up the hill there, which causes slowdowns even on good days. That signal should be removed, and most traffic in and out of the college should be forced over to South Coleman Road.

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