Traffic jam on Sound Avenue near Hallockville Museum Farm in July 2019. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The Town of Riverhead’s traffic planning consultants have proposed widening Sound Avenue from about 28 feet to about 43 feet in order to create a two-way center turning lane and a five-foot bike lane on both sides of the roadway.

Traffic consultants hired in connection with the comprehensive plan update presented their recommendations for easing Sound Avenue’s traffic congestion at the town’s comprehensive plan update’s central advisory committee meeting yesterday afternoon.

Sound Avenue was identified as the road having the biggest traffic growth in the town — increasing by 50% from 2003 to 2019 — on top of suffering from heavy traffic congestion caused by seasonal activity and agri-tourism, according to a draft transportation report prepared by Louis K. McLean Associates, the firm hired to do traffic analysis for the comprehensive plan.

The town’s right-of-way along Sound Avenue is 66 feet wide. “So the thought is to widen the pavement within that 66-foot-wide right-of-way, but not to an extreme because you want to try to preserve the character of the roadway,” Ray DiBiase, president and CEO of Louis K. McLean Associates said Monday during his presentation to the committee.

Public surveys and input collected for the comprehensive plan update process displayed a desire to keep the road’s historic and scenic character intact.

“So as you’re traveling along the road, someone in front of you who wants to make a left turn, they’re not going to stop and block you because they’re waiting for a gap in traffic in the other direction to turn left. They’ll put into their own lane, be out of traffic, it won’t impact through traffic at all,” DiBiase said.

Sound Avenue was designated a historic corridor by the State of New York in 1974. The consultants who prepared the 2003 comprehensive plan identified Sound Avenue as one of 18 corridors in Riverhead Town that should be considered for scenic corridor designation. Official scenic corridor designation would allow the town to more closely regulate development in those corridors, ensuring that new development would be “appropriate” and attentive to the visual quality of roadside areas.

Historic corridor designation never resulted in “concrete protections for the roadway,” the 2003 plan said. “Scenic corridor designation for Sound Avenue , therefore, is critical,” it said.

Civic groups ask last fall asked the town board to revisit the scenic corridor designation.

The consultant’s proposal also calls for lowering the speed limit and eliminating parking along Sound Avenue. Off-street parking areas and traffic control will be implemented for seasonal events, with a modification to the special event permit process for the purpose of analyzing access control, DiBiase said.

“In terms of parking along the entire roadway, parking should be the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, [they’re] supposed to accommodate all of the parking for their sites on their sites and off the roadway,” DiBiase said.

The high traffic volume on most town roads is not caused by an inadequate number of lanes, but rather by congestion resulting from driveway access points and difficulties at intersections, DiBiase said during the presentation. A possible solution is developing a town-wide “access management policy” that will help govern driveway access to facilities on town roads, he said. The policy would also seek to limit how many driveways are on the road by combining the driveways of adjacent businesses. The change would limit the potential points of vehicle collision when driveways are next to each other. 

Community Development Director Dawn Thomas said during the presentation that the plan was impractical because the town would need to remove upwards of 150 trees within the 66-foot Sound Avenue right-of-way. That would meet with significant community backlash, Thomas said. She said it could be an option to put the bike lanes outside the tree line.

DiBiase emphasized that the plan is only a draft recommendation that will get refined with input from the central advisory committee, the traffic safety committee and the public. A corridor study would be conducted to determine the long-term strategies of addressing Sound Avenue traffic problems, he said.

Councilman Tim Hubbard, a town board liaison to the CAC, said it would make more sense to widen the road in areas “that deserve or need a left hand turn lane, like when you’re at Harbes or like when you’re near Briermere.” DiBiase said that would also be covered in the study.

Besides discussing Sound Avenue, DiBiase also presented the committee with draft recommendations for other major roads within the town. He said his firm will look at safety and capacity improvements at “critical intersections” within the town, which could include adding new turning lanes and traffic signals. A few intersections the firm identified for improvement include Sound Avenue and Edwards Avenue, Wading River-Manorville Road and Route 25A, and the Main Street intersection at Roanoke and Peconic avenues.

DiBiase said the Suffolk County Department of Public Works will conduct a study by the end of the year on Route 58 to retime traffic signals, which will probably improve the flow of traffic on the road. The state Department of Transportation is also constructing improvements on Route 25 at the intersection of Edwards Avenue to realign the intersection and add turning lanes.

See prior coverage: State DOT sets virtual public hearing on proposed improvements for intersection at Edwards Avenue and Route 25

DiBiase also mentioned how the Suffolk County Reimagine Transit study and adoption of the proposed fixed-route bus network would impact Riverhead’s transportation. The new network would include fewer routes — including removing one feeder route in Riverhead — but would provide service every 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes, seven days a week until 10 p.m.. The network also establishes a new, timed transfer point at the Riverhead train station.

Suffolk County Transit is holding a public hearing on the new fixed route bus network on Wednesday and Thursday. More information can be found on Suffolk County Transit’s website.

DiBiase said preliminary opportunities surrounding public transportation could include: using downtown revitalization Initiative grant funds for transit; pursuing additional transit to support the Railroad Avenue transit-oriented development area; offering “last mile” services from the LIRR station; offering circulator bus services; putting a Hampton Jitney bus stop downtown; creating bus turn-out lanes on Route 58; and conducting a transit improvement study for Main Road east of Riverhead.

DiBiase said preliminary opportunities for bike and pedestrian improvements include: potential connections to the Empire State Trail Extension running through Riverhead; requiring bike accommodations at the LIRR station, downtown and hamlet centers, and town facilities; and creating dedicated bike lanes.

DiBiase said the town’s “complete streets” policy, which talks about accommodating all modes of transportation in the roadway, can be further leveraged by the town for pedestrian and bicycle improvements through requiring installation by developers.

“We’ll be looking at site plan requirements, future site plan submission, talk about having sidewalks along their frontage, so that eventually you’d have a continuous sidewalk ultimately along the roadway, bike racks for bicyclists and improve pedestrian connections,” he added.

A third round of public outreach meetings for the comprehensive plan update, which are focused on specific topics to be outlined in the plan, is scheduled for dates throughout April, both in-person at Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton and virtually through Zoom. 

The dates and topics for the meetings are:

  • Environment, Sustainability, and Renewable Energy, April 12 at 5:45pm 
  • Economic Development: Downtown and Route 58, April 14 at 5:45pm
  • Housing and Community Services, April 25 at 5:45pm 
  • Transportation and Utilities/Infrastructure, April 26 at 5:45pm
  • Agriculture and Farmland and Historic Resources Preservation, April 27 at 5:45pm 

Zoom links and passcodes for the meetings can be found on the town’s comprehensive plan update website.

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