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Traffic Tie-Up Signals Evacuation Plan Needed

After July 24 accident on County Road 39 snarled traffic in Southampton for nearly six hours, officials concerned what would happen in a disaster situation.

A collision that essentially crippled much of the South Fork for six hours on July 24 has local officials asking what can be done to ensure that one accident won’t halt an entire emergency evacuation.

All four lanes of County Road 39 were shut down following the , which spilled 20 gallons of oil and other fluid onto the roadway, requiring a cleanup effort following investigators' re-creation of the accident, according to authorities.

“It affected access both into and out of town,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said Friday during a Town Board discussion with town Police Chief William Wilson and town Director of Transportation and Traffic Safety Tom Neely. “How does this happen and how is it that we don’t have the ability to clear the roads and get traffic flowing again?”

Traffic was diverted around the scene, but congestion was made worse by construction on Montauk Highway, Southampton’s secondary east-west corridor.

Wilson called it a “perfect storm of events,” because of where it happened, the fact that it was during a time of year when traffic volume is high, and while Montauk Highway traffic was already delayed.

The accident occurred around 2 p.m. where eastbound Sunrise Highway becomes County Road 39 and the speed limit falls to 35 miles per hour. Wilson said one person was critically injured. “It looked very possible it could have become a fatal accident,” he said. One driver had a revoked license and criminal charges could have been lodged, he added. “That fact exacerbated what was already a bad situation.”

Public safety and convenience must be balanced with the accident re-creation process, Wilson said. “If public safety had been jeopardized outside of inconvenience, I would have taken immediate steps”

In addition to police and traffic control officers, a Suffolk County accident re-creation crew, county Department of Public Works workers and volunteers were also involved at the scene, he said. “We weren’t the only ones determining how long the roadway stayed shut down; however, I am supporting the decisions.”

In retrospect, the chief said, he would have ordered the construction work on Montauk Highway stopped for public safety’s sake. “I would have moved the construction materials off of Montauk Highway and made it work."

Though the accident happened on a county road in the Southampton Town Police Department's jurisdiction, officials reported that village offices were inundated with calls and complaints regarding how the situation was handled.

At Thursday evening's Village Board meeting, trustees and the mayor called for action to be taken so this doesn't happen again during a time it will not only pose an inconvenience, but also a danger.

“If we do in the future have some sort of major disaster, it would be nice to have a plan in effect to move people around …  in a lot more organized manner than we’ve had in the past,” Southampton Village Board Trustee Michael Irving said during Thursday’s meeting.

Trustee Bill Hattrick also called for a plan, “so the whole East End doesn’t end up on Windmill Lane and Nugent Street,” arteries in the village.

“The repercussions of that were really just enormous,” Hattrick added.

Mayor Mark Epley shared their sentiments. “The thing that scares me more than anything is hurricanes,” he said. “We need to go back to each of our departments and make sure everything is prepared and ready.”

Epley said water temperatures are warm going into hurricane season. “It’s ripe for this.”

However, at Friday’s Town Board work session, Throne-Holst pointed out that in the event of a hurricane there is typically 24 to 48 hours notice for an evacuation.

When Hurricane Irene was barreling toward Long Island one year ago, the town and village issued evacuation orders for flood prone areas well before the storm hit, and shelters were opened in several spots on the South Fork.

Hope and Change August 14, 2012 at 12:30 PM
in "FAIRNESS" I propose we heavily tax "millionaires" making over $250k /yr combined income and build an express lane for the poor and middle class to use exclusively. After all, if you have wealth or a business, you didn't build that. It belongs to the people. Vote For Me !
Marie Creste August 14, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Chief Wilson misses the point. Shutting down the entry and exit points for 6 hours for the entire East End is not simply inconvenient, but does in fact jeopardize public safety. An accident re-creation process and its clean-up should not take 6 hours. Let the insurance companies decide who was at fault, and have an emergency plan for this kind of incident, which has happened before and will happen again. There are several auto fatalities monthly in NYC and things keep moving. It took one of my family 3 hours to get home that day, and another 4 hours; both were traveling a distance of 7 miles, from SH village to Shinnecock Hills. This "perfect storm" that Wilson speaks of is merely the reality of summertime and traffic and he needs to come up with a better plan, or how about just a plan?
Twinkie August 14, 2012 at 04:26 PM
That's not like a politician to be concerned after there is a problem that we all knew about forever? The road never needed to be shut down after this minor fender bender. One guy walked away, the other guy was taken in a helicopter due to regulation and was fine - no life threatening injuries. That is the bottom line. The only issue that needs to be fixed here is some more police training and the need for us to buy the same coloring book that the State Police had to bring over (thereby causing a much greater delay). The east end doesn't have to come to a screeching halt because a high school graduate in a uniform needs to draw a pretty picture.
williedynamite August 14, 2012 at 04:35 PM
If anything, at least one west bound lane should have been qucikly cleared and kept open in anticipation of the heavy homeward bound traffic heading west in the afternoon. I don't think that would have complicated the Chief's elaborate accident reconstruction excercise. Terrible planning by Chief Wilson and his crew. Also, MarieCreste raises a good point: let the insurance companies figure out whose at fault, the cops who are paid by us taxpayers should have focused on other things: directing traffic on both 39 and Montauk Highway
williedynamite August 14, 2012 at 05:23 PM
too bad they didn't have the dancing disco cop who used to work in Hampton Bays in the 70's/80's; now he could have kept traffic moving while also ipodding to a "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack!
Ralebird August 14, 2012 at 06:35 PM
State Police conducted the investigation, not Wilson's department.
Ralebird August 14, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Yeah, he probably really puts on a show with his walker now.
Ralebird August 14, 2012 at 06:49 PM
"Let the insurance companies decide who was at fault". Great idea, as if they don't want to let the outcome go their way. If you were involved, I think you'd want a more independant review; you'd want to know if alcohol, phones, texting, surfboards, drugs, bad brakes, bad steering, bad suspension, loose load, excessive speed, dementia, stroke, heart attack, diabetic shock, epilepsy or a thousand other things were factors. So, so sorry that you knew a couple of people who were late getting home for wine and cheese hour.
Eastend50 August 14, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Your talking about Disco Cop, Craig Boyd, summer of 1981, stationed in front of the old Key Foods in Hampton Bays. Actually he's 50 ish now and in good shape. Went on to the music field. What else? His trademark was the disco cop tee shirt. No Ipod in those days, the closest was a Sony Walkman portable cassette player.
Diane Sadowski August 14, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Maybe some of the great commenters here should become a volunteer for the fire department or EMS or get an education in Public safety, police investigation, sociology, medicine or development planning before being so narcissistic and denegrating. I dont see much of a difference sitting in traffic here in the Hamptons from the several times I have had to do so on the LIE. The only diff is the attitude of..."one shouldnt have to wait and be patient and respectful when leaving the Hamptons".
williedynamite August 14, 2012 at 09:55 PM
"Wine and cheese hour"? I was just trying to get to the Fish on North Road for a cold one, now that's not asking for much, gj.
Ralebird August 15, 2012 at 01:21 AM
The Derby was open and doing a great business, I hear. Broaden your horizons, Willie!
Shinnecock Hills August 15, 2012 at 04:26 PM
I remember reading earlier coverage that there was a fuel spill across all lanes as well. This, I'm sure, contributed to the problem - it's not just a matter of sweeping up the debris.
jks August 16, 2012 at 11:03 PM
The road is definitely a problem but one victim was in ICU at Stony Brook for several days, that's not a minor accident. The police did just what needed to be done. Sorry you were inconvenienced that day Twinkie but so were a lot of other people.

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