Courtesy photo: Suffolk County

Suffolk County and Southampton Town officials yesterday announced the beginning of the Riverside traffic circle reconstruction project.

County Executive Steve Bellone, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and county legislators Bridget Fleming and Al Krupski were joined by civic leaders, community members and county public works officials for a ceremonial groundbreaking at the traffic circle Tuesday morning.

“This project represents the future of the new Riverside and shows that we are committed to accomplishing major infrastructure projects that will help spur revitalization,” Bellone said.

The reconstruction, which carries a $5.25 million price tag, “will convert the existing five-legged, one-lane traffic circle into a modern two-lane roundabout to ease congestion and improve commuter safety,” according to the county executive. It will also allow the county public works department to design and install a new storm sewer system to mitigate flooding issues and treat storm water before it is discharged into the Peconic River.

The existing traffic circle was designed in 1937. It is “inadequate to handle the current volume of traffic,” Schneiderman said. “The circle backs up on a daily basis and is projected to get worse every year, he said. “The expansion of the circle into a two-lane oval roundabout is an essential project to improve traffic flow and support the local economy.”

A reconstructed roundabout is seen by officials and community advocates as a lynchpin the the redevelopment of the distressed hamlet of Riverside.

Fleming, who was a town councilwoman when Southampton adopted a redevelopment plan and new zoning for Riverside, said the reconstruction project “achieves a critical early goal of the town’s form-based zoning, which will allow private sector companies to successfully invest in the community to achieve neighborhood revitalization.”

Courtesy photo: Suffolk County

The county in its 2015 capital plan budgeted $4 million for the reconstruction project. County officials later determined the complex construction project should take place mostly at night because of “the massive amount of volume that moves through that circle,” Fleming said. “That raises the cost but reduces the impact,” she said. Fleming was able to secure another $1 million for the project in the county’s 2016 capital plan.

“Although the Riverside revitalization plan included stormwater mitigation clean water engineering for the circle wasn’t in the original design,” Fleming said. But recent changes to state environmental regulations now prohibit the discharge of untreated stormwater runoff directly to surface waters. The county designed a stormwater collection and treatment system at an additional cost of $250,000, Fleming said. “Luckily there was water quality funding available,” she said, referring to water quality protection funds raised through a county sales tax,

Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle got legislation passed that authorized the town and county to swap parkland, allowing the construction to include town-owned land on the northwest corner of the intersection. The county dedicated a larger, more environmentally sensitive waterfront property in exchange for the smaller, former park property needed for the roadway. The swap was approved by voters in a mandatory town-wide referendum in 2014.

Bellone sought to delay starting the Riverside project until 2018 under a capital budget plan he submitted to the legislature in May 2015. Thiele roundly criticized Bellone for the postponement. Residents and community advocates rallied to gain support of the legislature to move the project up to the 2016 start date originally planned. It was delayed until 2017 because of work load commitments of the county’s public works department.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.