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OpinionEditorial

Stopping wrong-way tragedies 

A candlelit makeshift memorial sits at a lamppost

A candlelit makeshift memorial sits at a lamppost between exits 29 and 30 on the east bound Southern State Parkway near North Massapequa where for people died in a wrong way collision on Tuesday. Photographed on September 17, 2020. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

The causes of a horrific accident on the Southern State Parkway early Tuesday morning that killed four people and injured two others are still to be determined.

We don’t know how the driver, Marvin Balcaseres, got onto the parkway in the wrong direction, though state police officials said it was likely at Exit 30 or Exit 31. Nor, do we know what might have caused his fatal mistake.

Here’s what we do know: Balcaseres was traveling westbound on the eastbound lanes of the Southern State in North Massapequa when he crashed head on into a Nissan Rogue, shattering a Hempstead family. Killed were the Nissan’s driver, Ruben Sanchez-Flores, 67, who was taking his two daughters to work before starting his job as a taxi driver, and his daughter Ivis Sanchez-Cordova, a mother of two. Another daughter, Nadia Sanchez-Cordova was severely injured. Another passenger Edith Magana was killed, as was Balcaseres.

We do know that there’s good reason for the Southern State’s "Blood Alley" nickname. A Newsday study in 2012 found the Southern State Parkway was the deadliest parkway in Nassau County. It’s notorious for its narrow, winding curves that can’t hold up to modern traffic or speed, and its problematic exit and entrance ramps.

But often, the parkway’s dangers only get attention after each deadly crash — and then the spotlight fades.

In 2018, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation requiring the state Department of Transportation to conduct a study of the parkway, focusing on signage and the entrance and exit ramps. It was to be completed within two years. That deadline is less than three months away. The bill’s Long Island sponsors, Assemb. Michaelle Solages and State Sen. John Brooks, should demand the report be expedited and then ensure some changes in the roadway are made quickly.

But "fixing" the Southern State Parkway is easier said than done. There’s "wrong way" signage at the potential exits involved in Tuesday’s crash, but that’s clearly not enough. Plenty of changes have been suggested over the years, but many come with their own complexities. There’s more to do. Signage could be bigger, or blinking lights or barriers could be added. Instead of only the words "Wrong Way," perhaps multi-language signage with images would be effective.

Still others have suggested overhead speed cameras to try to slow motorists down. Then there are larger proposals, including rebuilding the worst exits and entrances.

And whether or not toxicology reports come back showing alcohol was involved in this crash, it’s a reminder of the need for alcohol interlock devices in all vehicles.

Budgets are tight, and needs are great, so making big changes might be tough. But State Sen. Todd Kaminsky is right when he compares the issue to the deadliest Long Island Rail Road grade crossings, which are finally being removed after decades of fatalities.

For now, the lives of those lost this week must be a reminder that none of us should let the spotlight on the dangers of the Southern State dim again.

— The editorial board

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