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After accidents, state DOT starts Smithtown road work

Stuffed animals are placed near Main Street in

Stuffed animals are placed near Main Street in Smithtown four months after 11-year-old Courtney Sipes was killed by a hit-and-run driver as she cross the street. (March 25, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The state Department of Transportation has begun some of its promised fixes along Route 25/25A in downtown Smithtown, the scene of numerous accidents, including the death in November of an 11-year-old girl.

Town officials said the road, also called Main Street, needs more police enforcement, too.

The DOT recently posted a no-turn-on-red sign coming from Lawrence Avenue onto Main Street, close to where Courtney Sipes was killed on Nov. 24. Some traffic lights have also been recalibrated to allow more time for pedestrians to cross the road, DOT spokeswoman Eileen Peters said.

Changes still to come include installing a fence barrier along the south side of Main Street from Lawrence Avenue east to Landing Avenue to deter pedestrians from crossing against the light, replacing pedestrian signals with the newer countdown type, adding signage clearly identifying a school zone, and widening a crosswalk at Lawrence Avenue.

"We are optimistic that most of the work will be completed during this construction season," Peters said.

"I'm confident that the DOT will be acting quickly to install and implement all these safety measures," said Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio.

According to state DOT figures, there were 359 crashes along a 1 1/2-mile stretch of the road from 2003 through 2008, 16 of which involved pedestrians. The road has a posted 30-mph speed limit, but cars often speed during non-rush-hour times, town officials say.

Vecchio and Smithtown Councilman Robert Creighton, a former county police commissioner, said they are glad the work has begun, but tougher enforcement must be a component. Creighton said he instructed the town's public safety officers to increase their vigilance while performing regular duties of checking Town Hall and parks on Main Street; they have issued 41 traffic summons since Jan. 1.

"Public safety is trying to supplement the activity of the Suffolk County police," said Creighton, "and are doing that because the DOT can make as many changes as they want, but unless we can convince the people through enforcement, it won't matter."

On Jan. 2, Charles Doonan, 65, of Flushing, and Mirtha Rotkowitz, 61, of Sunnyside, were struck by a car and injured while crossing the road on their way to the Smithtown Performing Arts Center, one block from where Sipes was killed.

Rotkowitz said the accident has changed her life, although she doesn't remember much about getting hit.

"I am happy that the work will be done before another accident happens, but my life is finished," she said, adding that Doonan, her fiance, has suffered severe head injuries. Rotkowitz has not been able to return to work since the accident, she said.

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