Efforts to alleviate Hamptons-bound traffic could involve raising the speed limit from 35 to 45 mph on the busiest thoroughfare through the South Fork, Southampton Town officials said.
Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman suggested the increase at a work session Thursday, saying traffic on County Road 39 tends to back up with workers in the lead-up to Memorial Day.
“We need to have a conversation about that 35-mph speed limit,” he said. “Nobody seems to drive it anyway.”
Schneiderman said he wanted to discuss testing a higher speed limit with Suffolk County Department of Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson, Southampton Town police, and Tom Neely, town director of public transportation and traffic safety.
“I know some people are going to love it, some people are going to hate it,” Schneiderman said. “Maybe it’s something we can pilot as well.”
Schneiderman said he believed the 35-mph speed limit was meant to be temporary after county officials widened County Road 39 several years ago.
“When we initially added that extra lane the town was very concerned about the curb cuts, and rightfully so,” he said, referring to the areas where cars turn on and off highways. “We’ve had a number of accidents there. But the 35-mph speed limit, I recall as kind of an initial speed limit to get people adjusted to the new road.”
He said traffic tends to back up in the area of Shinnecock Hills where the speed limit drops from 55 mph to 45 then 35.
Farther east, in Southampton Village, the speed limit rises back to 45 mph.
Hamptons officials have struggled for years to keep traffic moving as a “trade parade” of construction crews, landscapers and other workers floods the South Fork each morning and exits each afternoon as the Memorial Day and July 4 holidays approach.
Southampton Town Councilman Stan Glinka said the traffic seems to ease after each holiday.
“Once you get that big, huge push it kind of settles down,” Glinka said Thursday. “It’s not as bad. It’s still heavy, but it’s not as bad.”
In April, Southampton Town officials tested a plan to turn a stoplight into a blinking light on County Road 39 from 6 to 9 a.m. to hasten traffic during the morning rush hour.
Schneiderman said Thursday that motorists praised the change during the three-day test, but traffic data showed it didn’t make a major difference.
The supervisor said he noticed drivers slowing or even stopping for the blinking light. He said turning it to a green light during the rush hour may help keep motorists moving quickly through the intersection. He also suggested testing blinking lights at other spots where traffic backs up in the morning.
“It’s possible a combination of things may make a difference,” Schneiderman said. “Once we get past Memorial Day, hopefully we’ll see some of the traffic start to subside anyway. Maybe it’s something we have to live with.”