State to alter Smithtown road plan over pedestrian safety

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The state Department of Transportation plans to abandon a road-widening project on a stretch of Route 25 in Smithtown after concluding it would conflict with recent pedestrian safety efforts.

The project, with about $42 million allocated for work after 2022, would have expanded the road to between three and five lanes from Routes 111 to Route 347.

State officials decided the widening project no longer made sense after spending $500,000 last year on a range of measures designed to slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety along a portion of the road immediately west of Route 111. Those "traffic-calming"changes -- including narrowing sections of the 1-mile stretch known as Main Street -- came after the deaths of six pedestrians between 2004 and 2011.

"Adding travel lanes is no longer compatible with the . . . 'road diet' lane reductions and other traffic-calming measures directly to the west," Eileen Peters, the DOT spokeswoman on Long Island, said in a statement.

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Other changes on Main Street included providing a turning lane, increasing pedestrian crossing time, adding crosswalk countdown timers and restricting right turns on red. A state traffic study found average motorist speed dropped to 28 mph after the changes.

State and town officials are discussing a new approach to address congestion between routes 111 and 347, Peters said. Changes under consideration may include re-timing traffic lights, improving turning lanes, restricting left or right turns, or adding additional left or right turn arrows, she said. There is no current schedule or cost estimate for these improvements. The $42 million already allocated would go toward road projects elsewhere on the Island.

Smithtown planning director Frank DeRubeis said he supported the state's decision not to widen the road. "What you have right now is an obvious conflict between the objectives of pedestrian safety and traffic flow," he said. "If you're going to solve one, you might exacerbate or not improve the other -- there isn't a silver bullet to do both. Right now it would seem pedestrian safety is the priority with the DOT and if I was them, that's what I'd be concerned with."

DeRubeis said the area of Route 25 congestion he would most like addressed is from around Montclair Avenue east to Lake Avenue, where traffic can back up for more than a mile from midafternoon through the evening rush. It takes roughly twice the time to travel east through that stretch as it does to travel west, he said. About 32,000 vehicles use that portion of Route 25 daily, according to most recent DOT traffic count estimates.

Ryan Lynch, associate director for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which helped push for the pedestrian safety improvements on the Main Street section, called the state forward-thinking in the decision to not widen the road. Providing increased transportation choices, such as safer walking environments in downtown areas -- not road widenings -- are "the transportation investments of the future," he said.

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