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West Babylon looks for a place to create its downtown

Main Street organization and a new chamber of commerce have sought help from regional planners and the Suffolk County IDA.

West Babylon Chamber of Commerce president Carmine Galletta

West Babylon Chamber of Commerce president Carmine Galletta and civic leader Diane Thiel, seen here on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, at an intersection where some officials would like to create a downtown for the hamlet. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

West Babylon is searching for its center and looking for some help identifying it.

Unlike most Babylon Town hamlets, West Babylon does not have a conventional downtown, but officials are hoping various levels of government will work together to make a busy intersection its center.

“If this is something we can accomplish, it will be a game-changer for West Babylon,” said Diane Thiel, president of the West Babylon Main Street Organization.

The intersection of Route 109, Little East Neck Road, Great East Neck Road and Millard Avenue is a transportation “bow tie” where state and town roads meet. Around it are businesses, West Babylon Senior High School and the West Babylon Fire Department.

Thiel’s organization, which formed in 2011, has made the creation of a downtown a priority and is focused on that crossing. While it may be hard to envision the area as downtown material, Thiel said the roads there “take you from both ends of West Babylon.”

“It seemed like the perfect spot to do something proactive,” she said.

Earlier this year, the group appealed to the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency for help and it commissioned a study by the Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan-based planning group. Using data from the state Department of Transportation, the planning group stated in its findings that an average of more than 36,000 cars move through the area each day. Their analysis concluded that as long as the current roadway configuration — described by the group as a “disorienting and unattractive sea of asphalt in which people, bikes and car movement are in constant conflict” — exists, then a “center of any kind cannot be achieved.”

The area is notorious for accidents, Thiel said, and for years residents have pushed for more safety measures. According to Suffolk County police, between Nov. 1, 2014, and Oct. 31, 2017, there were 113 accidents at the intersection, 18 of which resulted in injuries.

Carmine Galletta, president of the recently created West Babylon Chamber of Commerce, said vehicles travel too quickly through the intersection for it to be a downtown. “When a place has a downtown feel, there’s slower traffic and people tend to stop and see what’s there,” he said. “Right now, they’re flying by.”

The planning group developed two alternatives to the current road configuration, both of which eliminate the “bow tie” and create two “T” intersections. The suggestions include narrowing lanes by 1 to 2 feet each and adding 6 feet of landscaping between the roads and sidewalks.

The state Department of Transportation is in the process of preparing a response to the Regional Plan Association study, spokesman Stephen Canzoneri said. “Our response will build upon the county’s suggestions and look to have little to no impact on the existing right-of-way,” he said in an email.

Separately, the town has recently contracted for a traffic study for Little East Neck Road north of the intersection, information that may help determine traffic flow into the area, officials said.

Galletta said he’s concerned about obtaining funding for all of the changes and whether the government agencies will be able to work together to make the changes. “This is a lot that we’re asking for, but we have to start somewhere,” he said.

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