Traffic tie-ups on Mastic streets have led Brookhaven Town officials to request a state hearing they hope will lead to construction of at least one new grade crossing over Long Island Rail Road tracks in the hamlet.
Traffic on William Floyd Parkway and Mastic Road grinds to a halt when trains pass through the hamlet, hurting local businesses and potentially hampering emergency service responses, residents and officials say.
Some residents and business leaders say snarled traffic makes even a routine jaunt across town a source of aggravation. And they fear evacuating Mastic, Mastic Beach and Shirley -- bordered on two sides by the Forge and Carmans rivers -- could be nearly impossible during a major storm without road improvements.
"It's a nightmare. That's the only way you can describe it," said Beth Wahl, president of both the Mastic-Shirley Chamber of Commerce and William Floyd Community Summit, a grassroots civic group.
"If we had alternatives to getting out of here -- maybe a helicopter -- we'd be OK."
The Brookhaven Town Board voted unanimously Nov. 19 to request a hearing before a state Department of Transportation administrative law judge, who would recommend to DOT Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll whether one or more new crossings should be added in Mastic. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.
LIRR spokesman Salvatore Arena said in a statement that the railroad "has long opposed the creation of new grade crossings for safety reasons" and favors "eliminating them where possible. This has been our consistent position in discussions over the years with representatives of the Mastic community and local elected officials."
Average daily traffic on the parkway between Surrey Circle and Montauk Highway in Mastic is 52,637, said Eileen Peters, a DOT spokeswoman. Statistics for Mastic Road were not available.
Peters said a third street, Smith Road, west of the parkway and used by 6,717 vehicles a day, also crosses the train tracks. About 20 streets north and south of the LIRR right of way reach dead ends and don't cross the tracks.
Town Councilman Dan Panico said officials requested the hearing because LIRR officials have been "inflexible throughout the years" when asked to consider new crossings.
"With every passing year, traffic gets worse," Panico said. "It is another factor holding back the area."
Some Mastic residents said road improvements completed last year on Mastic Road by town highway crews failed to improve traffic flow.
Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said only new crossings would fix the problem.
"It's a much safer roadway than it was before," Losquadro said. "There's nothing that you're going to do to that road, in particular, that is going to alleviate the bottleneck at that peninsula right there."
Making the grade crossing
Brookhaven officials have asked the state Department of Transportation to schedule a hearing on adding one or more railroad grade crossings in Mastic. Here's how the process works:
*Municipal officials petition the DOT for a new crossing, with a supportive municipal resolution from the governing body.
*The locality must demonstrate how the crossing would improve public safety.
*A copy of the petition is provided to the chief administrative law judge in the Office of Proceedings.
*A public hearing date and location is set by the Office of Proceedings.
*All local elected officials, railroad, emergency services, school districts, businesses and affected residents are notified of the hearing.
*A judge hears and reviews testimony and makes a recommendation to the DOT commissioner.
*The commissioner renders a decision in writing to the municipality.
SOURCE: New York State Department of Transportation