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Antiquated Southern State needs safety upgrade, lawmakers say

State Sen. John E. Brooks (D-Seaford) and Assemb.

State Sen. John E. Brooks (D-Seaford) and Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont) unveiled legislation to improve driver safety on the Southern State Parkway during a news conference at the North Merrick Fire Department on Sunday, March 26, 2017. Credit: Steve Pfost

Two Nassau County lawmakers are calling for the state to review ways to improve safety on the Southern State Parkway, which the legislators called hopelessly — and sometimes fatally — antiquated.

Sen. John E. Brooks (D-Seaford) and Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont) Sunday unveiled legislation that directs the New York State Department of Transportation to conduct a safety study of the nearly 26-mile road.

Brooks said the Southern State, intended by planner Robert Moses as a route from New York City to Jones Beach when construction began in the 1920s, is woefully inadequate for Long Island motorists in 2017. The road is too winding to safely accommodate vehicles driving 70 or 80 mph despite the 55-mph speed limit, the entrance and exit ramps are too short, and the highway’s signage is inadequate, Brooks said during a news conference outside the North Merrick Fire Department.

“The road was built when a car was a luxury,” Solages agreed. “We all have to drive. Why not do it in a safe manner?”

Brooks said a state study conducted in 2016 found that more than 10,500 accidents occurred on the Southern State over a five-year period. More than 3,000 of those accidents involved injuries, and 32 included fatalities. Brooks said he did not know what years the study covered.

North Merrick Fire Chief Brian Ellensohn said his department, whose jurisdiction stretches just over a mile on the Southern State and includes Exits 22, 23 and 24, answered calls for 71 vehicle accidents on the parkway last year. The fire department’s coverage area on the roadway is part of a 10-mile section between Exit 17 in Malverne and Exit 32 in South Farmingdale nicknamed “Blood Alley” because of the high number of fatal crashes there.

The bill asks the state transportation department to identify sources of federal funding that could be used to improve signage, lengthen ramps and make other engineering changes to make the Southern State safer.

Transportation experts say renovations that would turn the winding and sometimes narrow road into a modern thoroughfare would be expensive — and perhaps even impossible to achieve.

The price to widen the Southern State, change its grade and straighten out its turns, the experts said, would be enormously costly, but that’s only part of the challenge. They did not provide a cost estimate.

“Not only can we not afford to fix it — with the homes, schools and parks abutting right up hard against the parkway, it’s virtually impossible, even if we could come up with the money,” Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA New York, told Newsday in 2012. “We’re stuck with it.”

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