Sandy delays Hempstead Tpke. safety work

Eastbound traffic on Hempstead Turnpike near Nassau University Eastbound traffic on Hempstead Turnpike near Nassau University Medical Center. (Jan. 3, 2013) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Superstorm Sandy has delayed construction work on Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau County that is supposed to make the road safer for pedestrians, according to a state official.

The addition of median fencing and construction of 13 raised pedestrian medians throughout the 16-mile corridor were supposed to be done in fall 2012, said Jennifer Post, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

But when Sandy hit Long Island on Oct. 29, state crews were forced to shift their focus to making the roads passable, after downed trees blocked highways, and power outages knocked out traffic signals, Post said.

"We couldn't do work during the storm, and the devastation on Long Island was so extensive that our priority became cleanup and restoring mobility to the Island," Post said. "We had hundreds of traffic signals out, and tons of debris strewn across highways."

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation advocacy group, has named Hempstead Turnpike the most dangerous road for pedestrians in the New York region four times since 2008.

Last February, Newsday published a series of stories on pedestrian safety on Hempstead Turnpike. The investigation found that, on average, five pedestrians died each year on the turnpike between 2005 and 2011.

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Other Hempstead Turnpike work being pushed back includes installation of five new crosswalks, building traffic signals at three intersections, and the modification of a traffic signal at a fourth. Relocating six bus stops so that they are closer to crosswalks will also have to wait until the spring.

"Superstorm Sandy and cold weather curtailed our fall construction season," Post said.

Work on building 13 raised medians islands at eight locations along the turnpike is scheduled to begin Wednesday. Building fencing will begin on Hempstead Turnpike between Carmen and Franklin avenues in East Meadow on Monday, according to the DOT.

Fence work should take about a week, and the new medians should be done about a month after work starts, Post said.

Also this month, the DOT will install leading pedestrian intervals -- a timing system that allows pedestrians to enter intersections while all traffic is stopped -- at nearly 100 traffic signals and add "No Turn on Red" signs at another 142 places along the highway.

State DOT Commissioner Joan MacDonald traveled to Elmont in May to announce that repainted crosswalks, increased signal time for pedestrians and upgraded crossing signals were part of a state initiative to boost safety along Hempstead Turnpike. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano joined MacDonald to announce a public education campaign called Walk Safe Nassau aimed at encouraging walkers to cross the turnpike at intersections rather than in the middle of the block.

State legislators interviewed last week about the delay said they understood how Sandy could scramble the DOT's budget and road-improvement plans.

"I think that anybody who avers that it could have been done in light of post-hurricane relief is deluding themselves," said state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), whose district includes parts of the turnpike. "We have everybody trying to help out on hurricane relief."

Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), chairman of the State Senate Transportation Committee, said that resources might be diverted after Sandy, but "I've urged them to expeditiously complete the changes on Hempstead Turnpike."

The highway also goes through the district represented by state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola).

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Martins said DOT officials have told him that work will be completed by the spring.

"It's a priority," Martins said. "And it has to be."

Sandy recovery efforts can't become a long-term excuse for not completing work on dangerous roads like Hempstead Turnpike, said Ryan Lynch, associate director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

"Many worthy infrastructure needs have taken a backseat to Sandy recovery efforts," Lynch said. "We expect DOT to hold to its promise of improved safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers on Hempstead Turnpike."

Last year, there were 72 pedestrian crashes on the turnpike, two of which were fatal, according to Christopher M. Mistron, Nassau County's traffic safety coordinator.

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As part of its Walk Safe Nassau program, the county has distributed 300 posters and 7,000 pamphlets urging residents to cross Hempstead Turnpike at intersections with pedestrian signals and crosswalks.


Changes on Hempstead Turnpike

DONE

Traffic signals: New traffic signal timing on the turnpike to increase pedestrian crossing time and shorten pedestrian wait time and encourage motorists to drive at the speed limit. Leading pedestrian interval (LPI), which stops traffic so pedestrians can enter an intersection, began being added at 95 traffic signals this month.

Signs: "No Turn on Red" signs have been added to more intersections along the turnpike. The signs are needed to stop traffic as part of the LPI changes.

Crosswalks: Repainted at least 235 crosswalks on the turnpike and widened 126.

YET TO COME

Medians: Thirteen raised pedestrian medians at various locations along the turnpike. The medians will provide refuge to pedestrians crossing in areas without crosswalk signals.

Median fencing: To be installed on the turnpike between Carmen Avenue and Franklin Avenue to discourage pedestrians from crossing in the middle of a busy block.

Bus stops: Move a half dozen bus stops closer to crosswalks.

Source: New York State Department of Transportation

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