Pull-off areas among LIE safety fixes to come

Abner Vega, left, controls a paint cart while Abner Vega, left, controls a paint cart while co-worker Louis Roque holds a paint hose as they repaint the road lines on the Long Island Expressway in order to improve safety conditions. Both are employees of the Safety Marking Company, (June 28, 2012) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Ten new emergency pull-off areas will be constructed on a 7-mile stretch of the Long Island Expressway in Nassau County as part of safety improvements spurred by the death and injury of law enforcement officers making routine traffic stops.

Almost a year after a federal audit highlighted a variety of safety issues on the busy highway, state Department of Transportation officials said they hoped to have four of the pull-off spots designed and constructed by Christmas.

Five will be installed eastbound and five westbound after the Federal Highway Administration analysis of conditions between LIE exits 35 and 41 suggested changes for the DOT, which maintains the road, and the law enforcement agencies that police it. As many as 222,000 vehicles travel parts of that stretch each day, according to state transportation data.

James Carver, president of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, welcomed the improvements but said he was disappointed at the pace of implementation. The federal report was issued June 27, 2011, with a revised version issued Sept. 1, 2011.

"The LIE pull-offs are necessary to ensure the safety of police officers and the public," he said. "They should be a priority and be expedited."

Michael Califano, a highway patrolman from Wantagh, died in early February 2011 when he was struck by a truck after he had pulled over another truck for insufficient lighting. Califano was in his patrol car along the LIE at Exit 39 that night when the truck slammed into him. The driver had fallen asleep, police said.

The crash -- Nassau's first line-of-duty death since 1993 -- was one of 25 accidents in which police officers were struck on the 7.2-mile section of the LIE since 2001, according to Nassau PBA officials, who contacted Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to call for the safety assessment.

The federal review said there was not enough shoulder space in spots and suggested the LIE be retrofitted with emergency pull-off areas where officers could conduct traffic stops; with better lighting and road markings; and with more-visible signage.

Frank Pearson, regional traffic engineer for the state DOT, said the suggestions had been reviewed and most would be acted on by the end of summer. "We . . . determine what's feasible, based on the construction season, our maintenance schedule and the contract-letting process," he said.

The DOT in January reviewed 14 possible pull-off locations and has since identified 10, which will soon be designed, Pearson said.

"It's a nasty strip of road. . . . We need to get these improvements done -- the sooner, the better," said Califano's father, Mike Califano, 71, of North Massapequa. "It's a must."

Other changes already have been made, including trimming vegetation to improve visibility. The audit also suggested refreshing road markings more frequently. Transportation Department officials said road markings are repainted on a three-year cycle and the LIE's scheduled repainting began last month.

More suggestions -- installing flexible bright orange markers at exit ramps and installing reflectors on roadside guide rails and the center median concrete barrier -- would be carried out this summer.

A $7.5 million contract awarded in mid-May will replace existing signs on all state roads throughout Nassau and Suffolk -- including the LIE -- with high-intensity reflective sheeting that improves nighttime visibility, Pearson said.

Later this month, the DOT will start installing more rumble strips near exits.

In total, about $1.5 million more in work will be done through the remainder of this year on the LIE between exits 35 (Shelter Rock Road) and 41 (Routes 106/107), Pearson said.

Speaking June 29, after passage of a federal transportation bill, Schumer said the legislation had more than doubled program funds for highway safety improvements and he wanted to see improvements to the LIE given priority. State DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald responded that as the federal funds flowed, they would be spent on state road corridors with the highest need, which include both the LIE and Hempstead Turnpike.

The safety audit also suggested law enforcement agencies consider using speed-control cameras, requiring better reflective clothing for patrol officers and installing more-visible rear-facing blue strobe lights on patrol cars.

Thomas Krumpter, first deputy commissioner for the Nassau Police Department, said most of the suggested safeguards were in place prior to Califano's death. Each officer has a fluorescent orange vest, but the department is in the process of issuing new lime-green vests, which have become the national standard.

A bright yellow stripe also has been added to uniform pants for officers on highway patrol. The blue strobe lights were added to patrol cars starting in 2000, he said. Using speed cameras would require state legislation, Krumpter said.

Califano's father said he hopes the LIE improvements will save other people's lives, but much of the responsibility lies with drivers.

"If you see a police officer on the side of the road with his lights flashing, move over and slow down -- that's our hope," Mike Califano said. "No one expects to lose a child. . . . You still look for him to come in the door, the wonderful son and terrific father he was."

 


LONG ISLAND EXPRESSWAY SAFETY ISSUES:

Traffic on the LIE between exits 35 (Shelter Rock Road) and 41 (NY Routes 106/107) averages from about 168,900 to 222,530 vehicles per day

The average speed is 67.7 mph for 85 percent of drivers.

Ability to expand shoulder space is limited because the road abuts well-developed suburban communities.

Guiderail or barriers prevent pull-offs in some areas.

Narrow roadway shoulders force highway assistance attendants to walk in travel lanes of some sections.

 

 

SAFETY IMPROVEMENT SUGGESTIONS:

Consider using automated speed enforcement

Continue adding "rumble strips" in exit ramp areas

Trim vegetation from signs and lights

Discontinue traffic stops in the white-painted areas on the outside of roadway curves

Develop regular communication between Long Island-based state DOT and law enforcement personnel to improve incident management.

SOURCE: 2011 Federal Highway Administration Road Safety Assessment

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