Judy Cartwright Judy Cartwright

Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column

Installation of a traffic signal in front of Ward Melville High School in East Setauket has led to traffic backups and a "Don't Block the Box" nightmare down the road.

The box, a white grid painted on the pavement about 200 feet to the north of the signal on Old Town Road, marks the entrance to a condominium community. Cars and school buses that back up from the traffic signal ignore the white box and accompanying "Do Not Block Intersection" sign, resident Carolyn Lomba told us in an email.

"We asked the town to change the sign to Do Not Block the Box or add a stop line [on the pavement], but their response is that traffic is flowing and they will not do anything," Lomba wrote.

The far-from-ideal traffic at the entrance to the 314-unit community, The Lakes at Setauket, is deemed especially difficult in the morning.

"This morning at 6:30, twenty to 7, my husband and I couldn't get out," Lomba said one recent weekday. Their efforts to enter traffic were met with what she characterized as "nice hand gestures."

She and others we spoke with, property manager Nancy Scoca and maintenance manager Bob Groth, are betting that drivers don't realize the "Do Not Block Intersection" sign applies to the condo entrance -- believing, instead, that it applies to the intersection at the traffic signal, which can be seen just ahead.

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We took their case for a new sign -- "Don't Block the Box" -- plus a white stop line on the pavement to the town.

But we made no headway. The town defended the current arrangement because it corresponds to guidelines outlined in the federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. We were referred to a diagram in the manual that indicates the existing sign is appropriate for this road and traffic signal configuration.

But Lomba insists the predicament calls for opting out of the guidelines and finding a better solution. "In this situation, it becomes a huge problem to go by rules and regulations," she said.

The town said traffic congestion at the site isn't that common. "The backups which block their access only occur during the midday peak hour," town spokesman Jack Krieger wrote in an email.

Responded Lomba: "They're not there to witness what goes on on a day-to-day basis."

Krieger said the traffic signal was installed as part of work on Old Town Road that began in 2011. The signal was recommended in a study done in response to concerns about safety at the school entrance.

Other measures in the works "should reduce queue lengths" on the road, he said, including a new right-turn lane for the school's south entrance and a new timing plan for the four traffic signals on that section of Old Town Road.

Lomba and other residents are hoping he's right.



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Trouble with the treetop


An oak tree in a front yard in Jericho stands tall, but a next-door neighbor sees past its grandeur to the top of the trunk, where it has split.

Neighbor Robert Franco noticed the split in February and, fearing half the tree will rip off and topple into the street, asked his neighbor to call in an arborist. When he met no success, he turned to Oyster Bay Town, and a town official paid a visit. But when Franco received no further word from officials, he contacted Watchdog.

The fact that a school is down the street sharpens his concern. "There's an elementary school, buses, people driving kids to school," he said. "I don't want anyone killed by this falling tree."

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His optimal solution would be removal or trimming of the tree. Lacking that, he proposes closing a short stretch of the street to reduce the risk of injury in case the tree falls. The closure of that section of Maytime Drive, between two side streets, would affect only two driveways, one of them his.

"They say, 'If you see something, say something,' " he said. "So I see and I say."

We posed the situation to the town, but spokeswoman Marta Kane told us that the town does not remove trees on private property. "We looked into this matter," she said. "This really is a civil matter" between neighbors.

And closing a section of the street? "Closing the street because of a potentially dangerous tree is not something the town would do," she said. Street closures can pose problems of their own, such as interrupting access to emergency vehicles.

But from his next-door vantage point, Franco views the tree as a problem waiting for a solution. "The town says because the tree's on . . . [private] property, they have no jurisdiction. But once it falls into the street, they'll have to come to remove it."