Lawmakers: East End roads need to be safer

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The resurfacing of Montauk Highway and stiffer penalties for distracted drivers have improved safety on East End roads, but more needs to be done to save lives, officials say.

Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) issued a report last week that looked at ways to improve road safety for commuters, including installing red-light cameras and lowering speed limits.

LaValle said safe driving is key. "It is important that everyone take traffic safety seriously," he said in a release.

Last fall, Thiele and LaValle created the South Fork Highway Safety Roundtable, in reaction to a spike in fatal accidents in the area last summer. The report is a result of that roundtable. Officials say some measures have improved safety, but accidents and long delays are an ongoing problem.

"We want accidents that are fatal satisfactorily resolved," Thiele said. "These are accidents that have closed the highway" for hours at a time.

A fatal accident on July 25 on Sunrise Highway in Southampton closed the road for nine hours.

One recommendation to avoid such accidents is to use speed cameras to deter dangerous driving. Thiele introduced legislation in April that would allow East End jurisdictions to install mobile and stationary photo devices to curb speeding. "Speed cameras will make the biggest difference," he said. "People will actually slow down."

The root of the problem lies in the increased traffic during the summer, which leads to more accidents, officials said.

Thiele says the area has the highest traffic "since before the recession due to the economy improving."With more people visiting the East End, Thiele and others hope more people opt to use the Long Island Rail Road as an alternative to driving.

But Donald Louchheim, mayor of the Village of Sagaponack, doubts the LIRR can help since most commuters practice a trade. "Contractors doing work can't use the train," he said.

The roundtable, which has met several times, plans to meet again this fall, to try to build on their work. "We need to better deal with road closures," said Thiele. "That will be our primary focus; by midwinter we hope to have a comprehensive plan for accidents."

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