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U.S. Open golf begins, and so do traffic jams out east

“People are calling in asking where is the accident, but there is no accident,” police Sgt. Michael Burns said. “Some people who were commuting to work gave up and went home.”

Steven Skrynecki, Southampton Town police chief, speaks Monday about the public safety package that was put into place for this week's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. (Credit: Newsday / William Perlman)

The U.S. Open golf tournament in Shinnecock Hills began Monday with official practice rounds — and so did the traffic jams.

A combination of commuters and spectators headed to and from the tournament at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton backed up traffic for 10 miles on Montauk Highway in the morning, said Sgt. Michael Burns of the Southampton Town police.

And in the afternoon, it wasn’t much better.

Traffic was at a standstill at Windmill Lane and Nugent Street in Southampton Village just before 7 p.m., as the vehicles of evening commuters and those of Open visitors tried to share the road.

“It’s gridlocked,” said Kristine Nemeth, a waitress at Shippy’s Pumpernickels Restaurant East, where diners had a view of the snarled traffic.

While the Open, one of four major championships in golf, doesn’t officially start until Thursday, fans swarmed Shinnecock to watch some of the world’s best golfers practicing.

“People are calling in, asking where is the accident, but there is no accident,” said Burns, adding that the gridlock extended from Hampton Bays to Southampton Village. “Some people who were commuting to work gave up and went home.”

Southampton Town’s transportation director, Thomas Neely, chalked up the heavy traffic Monday to commuters looking to avoid traffic on County Road 39/State Route 27, which abuts the golf club.

But in looking to avoid a tie-up, the drivers ended up causing one, Neely said. “Everybody had the same idea and used the same alternate route,” he said, noting that traffic on County Road 39 was lighter than usual for a weekday morning.

Neely encouraged motorists not to be dissuaded from using County Road 39. Town officials, police and organizers will make some “tweaks” to their transportation plan before Tuesday morning, he said, including keeping some traffic signals along Montauk Highway on a red blinking mode.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he was more worried about possible tie-ups on State Route 24 from Riverhead, where motorists saw delays Monday.

Neely predicts that up to 95 percent of the 30,000 golf fans expected to attend the tournament will use public transportation. “We’re cautioning people to expect some delays, because we think that’s appropriate. But the sky is not falling,” he said.

The state Department of Transportation is providing 26 portable electronic message signs to update motorists about travel conditions and says it will expedite aid to disabled vehicles.

With no public parking options in or around Shinnecock Hills, most drivers — unless they’re actually playing in the tournament — will likely park at designated satellite lots at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach and then board shuttle buses to get to the tournament site.

Portions of Tuckahoe Road will be closed throughout the tournament, and cars are not allowed to stop, stand or park within about a three-quarter-mile radius around the tournament site, Neely said. Truck deliveries to the tournament must take place during overnight hours, he added.

For golf fans who prefer to avoid roadways altogether, the LIRR is providing service to and from the tournament via a temporary Shinnecock Hills train station built by the USGA. The railroad is adding the stop to regularly scheduled Montauk branch trips and also adding some trains to the schedule. The LIRR expects to carry up to 9,000 people a day to and from the U.S. Open.

“With that number, I don’t think traffic will have a huge impact,” said Reg Jones, USGA managing director of U.S. Open Championships. “We view the train as a really great option for people.”

Other transportation providers are also gearing up for the expected demand. Private coach bus company Hampton Jitney is offering service to and from Manhattan and also to and from points east.

Designated pickup and drop-off sites for taxis, Uber vehicles and other ride-share services have been set up at the Stony Brook University campus in Southampton. Bike racks are also available at the campus parking lot for fans cycling to the tournament.

With Laura Albanese

CORRECTION: The U.S. Open wraps up Sunday. An earlier version of this story gave the wrong day.

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