Long Island Expressway safety fixes urged

A file photo of traffic on the Long

A file photo of traffic on the Long Island Expressway near Exit 40 in Jericho. (March 17, 2010) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

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A 7.2-mile stretch of the Long Island Expressway in Nassau County where 24 law enforcement officers have been injured -- and one killed -- in the last decade needs emergency pull-off areas, speed-control cameras, reflective clothing for officers and better lighting, a new federal study says.

The 43-page road safety assessment, which Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) requested after the February death of Nassau Police Officer Michael J. Califano, was conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration along with the state Department of Transportation, the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, Nassau County Traffic Safety Board, and the Nassau County, Old Westbury and Lake Success police departments.

The study analyzes conditions from Exit 35, at Shelter Rock Road, to Exit 41, at Routes 106/107, where it says annual daily traffic volume in June ranged from about 169,000 to 222,000.

That strip includes Exit 39 at Glen Cove Road, where Califano, 44, of Wantagh, was killed when a truck driver who authorities said had fallen asleep slammed into him while the officer was handling a routine traffic stop. The driver, John Kaley of Connecticut, pleaded not guilty to criminally negligent homicide, assault and a right-of-way violation and is free on bail.

Schumer, who toured the location and then called for the study in March, said Wednesday: "What I found surprising is that on one of the busiest highways in America there would be such a lack of safety standards. . . . You would think the LIE would be up to snuff -- but it clearly isn't."

He said the state should apply for federal funds to make improvements.

The safety assessment recommends creation of more emergency pull-off areas, and it identified 14 potential locations along that segment of the expressway. It calls for more and better lighting on ramps and at merging and diverging points, as well as new reflectors on guide rails and barriers.

Noting that drivers in that area routinely exceed the 55 mph speed limit, it suggests surveillance cameras and automated enforcement devices such as traffic cameras that scan fast-moving vehicles and snap pictures of license plates to ticket speeders.

The study also suggests that officials consider enhancing officers' uniforms with reflective strips and modify patrol cars with blue strobe lights, which tend to be more visible than red lights.

Michael N. Califano of Wantagh, the fallen officer's father, and Danielle Rella of Smithtown, the sister of injured Nassau Police Officer Kenneth Baribault, applauded the study. But both also said the improvements can only go so far because motorists must be more responsible.

"It's good to have these changes, yes, definitely," the elder Califano said. "They wouldn't help in our situation, but they could help somebody else down the road."

Baribault, 30, of Nesconset, was paralyzed and suffered brain damage when he was struck in May 2008 by a drunken motorist after he had pulled over a driver he suspected of drunken driving on the LIE in Plainview -- east of the area that was included in the road safety assessment.

Rahiem Griffin of Shirley was sentenced to 7 years in prison for second-degree reckless assault, drunken driving, and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in connection with Baribault's injuries.

"The best thing one can do to stay safe is to practice responsible driving. That is first and foremost," Rella said. "You can be on the road and you could have a drunk driver plow right through."

James Carver, president of the Nassau County PBA, said, "I think the state should act immediately on this to start the corrections in the roadway that are recommended in this report."

Schumer sent a letter to state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald asking her to apply for federal Surface Transportation Formula Funding, a fund that includes about $1.7 billion. He added that $41 million of the fund was granted to the state last year for safety improvements on state roads.

"Safety is our top priority and several of the recommendations that this study made were already in the works," said Jennifer Post, a DOT spokeswoman, adding that those measures include tree trimming and re-striping on the LIE, both of which are scheduled. She added that missing and damaged markers mentioned in the study have been replaced.

Nassau police spokesman Det. Lt. Kevin Smith welcomed the study's suggestions.

"However, it must be noted that vehicle traffic stops on high-speed roadways are a difficult and hazardous job," he said. "On the night of his death, Officer Mike Califano's actions were nothing but professional, in his mission to warn and help a motorist whose vehicle had insufficient lights, he used all available safety measures and was more than sufficiently off the roadway."

With Alfonso A. Castillo

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What’s the top safety precaution needed on the LIE between Exits 35 and 41?

Emergency pull-off areas Speed-control cameras Better lighting

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