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Southampton Town takes blinking light for traffic test drive

The state DOT is reviewing the switch at the intersection of Montauk Highway and Station Road in Water Mill.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman talks about pausing traffic lights along the Route 27 corridor to alleviate traffic congestion on the South Fork (Credit: Newsday / Vera Chinese)

Southampton Town officials are considering a traffic fix this summer that they say will hasten the slow rolling “trade parade” as commuters and tradespeople make their way east in the morning.

The town has switched a traffic light at the intersection of Montauk Highway and Station Road in Water Mill to a blinking yellow light during the morning rush, a change officials said shaves up to eight minutes off a west-to-east commute. The one-mile stretch from the end of County Road 39 — a main South Fork artery that becomes Montauk Highway — to the Water Mill intersection is one of the most clogged sections of the artery, as two lanes converge into one and the traffic light slows the flow of vehicles.

“We find that if you can eliminate a light it makes a tremendous difference in travel time,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “With the light on, [the trip between County Road 39 and the Water Mill intersection] was typically about 16 to 20 minutes. We blinked the light and it dropped down to eight minutes.”

Heavy vehicles — like the landscaping, construction and delivery trucks that crowd South Fork roads — take longer to move after stopping, creating a backlog, Schneiderman noted.

The South Fork faces unique traffic problems due to its geography, lack of major highways and because much of its workforce travels from points west.

The number of average daily car trips through the nearby intersection of County Road 39 and Montauk Highway has risen from 28,944 in 2005 to 40,891 in 2016, a 41 percent increase, according to DOT data provided by the town.

The traffic light plan is still under review and is pending approval of the state Department of Transportation, according to an agency spokesman. If continued, the change will likely be in effect from 6 to 9 a.m. through July, according to Thomas Neely, Southampton’s director of transportation and public safety.

“That’s the peak morning congestion,” he said. “Teachers are still working and contractors are getting homes ready for the season.”

Locals and commuters will likely welcome the shortened commute — even if it is only by a few minutes.

Katherine Guiza, an office assistant at Dario’s Landscaping in Southampton, said it used to take her an hour and 15 minutes to get from her home in Hampton Bays to a former job in East Hampton, a roughly 20-mile drive. She said the traffic was a major factor in her decision to take a new job, which is based in an office on North Sea Road, about a mile and a half west of Water Mill and a 30-minute commute.

“It takes a long time and it’s crazy,” Guiza said. “That’s why people go the other route,” she added, referring to back roads like Scuttle Hole Road.

The light at Tuckahoe Road and County Road 39 will blink through the U.S. Open golf tournament, being played June 11-17 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Officials will collect data during the event and determine whether or not to make the switch permanent.

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