Riverhead Town Board members discussed their thoughts on preliminary recommendations made by the comprehensive plan update’s transportation consultants to ease congestion on Sound Avenue during their work session Thursday.
Board members discussed several recommendations, including decreasing the speed limit, adding designated bike lanes, prohibiting parking and adding a center left turn lane on the length of the road. The recommendations were made by Louis K. McLean Associates, the firm were hired by the town to do transportation analysis for the comprehensive plan update, and aired last week at a meeting of the town’s advisory committee for the plan update.
The consultants said a corridor study for Sound Avenue is necessary to decide how to improve traffic flow on its northern east-west thoroughfare while maintaining its rural character, the consultants advised the board.
LKMA in its presentation on traffic issues in November said they identified Sound Avenue 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.
Ray DiBiase, the president and CEO of the traffic consulting firm gave the board a shorter version of the presentation made at the meeting of the town’s comprehensive plan update central advisory committee last Monday.
DiBiase’s presentation to the CAC last week included a recommendation that the town widen 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. The recommendation was not well-received during the CAC meeting, with Councilman Tim Hubbard, Community Development Director Dawn Thomas and other members of the committee opposed to the idea. Officials at the work session said residents had called Town Hall to register their objections to the idea, which also garnered major pushback on social media.
Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree walked back the idea on Thursday, and denied that the consultants had recommended adding a center turning lane along the length of Sound Avenue. Murphree said there has been “misinterpretation” in the press and on the radio.
The center turning lane would only be at certain “choke points” on the road, Murphree said, recasting the consultant’s presentation to conform to Hubbard’s suggestions during last week’s CAC meeting.
Murphree distributed to board members Thursday a handout similar to the one distributed at the CAC meeting, but focused more narrowly on the Sound Avenue corridor. It contained changes to eliminate the controversial recommendations. The revised document added the phrase “at appropriate locations” to the “Two-Way Left Turn Lane” bullet point on the slide showing potential solutions for the Sound Avenue corridor. The revised document also added “where appropriate” to the “Prohibition of Parking” bullet point. The revised document also eliminated an illustrated aerial photo that was included in the March 28 presentation document showing the proposed two-way center turning lane along the length of an unidentified stretch of Sound Avenue. (Below.)
“So with a quick recap, Sound Avenue is not being widened the entire length with a center lane. Please don’t think that’s what’s happening because it’s not. It never was,” Hubbard said towards the end of the discussion. “We need maybe to address the areas within Sound Avenue that have those situations.”
Councilman Bob Kern said the town shouldn’t wait until the comprehensive plan is completed in spring of 2023 for certain traffic control measures on Sound Avenue to be implemented. He advocated for setting up cones for temporary left turn lanes on Sound Avenue and said Riverhead needs to work with Southold now to limit traffic congestion.
Councilman Ken Rothwell said he has concerns about widening the road on Sound Avenue because it may draw more people to use the road because there are fewer potential traffic backups than on other roads. He pointed at the construction of four lanes on County Road 39 in Southampton as an example of what Sound Avenue might become if it is expanded.
“How do you decide that if you make these maneuvers and all this financial investment and you do these turning lanes and mark it up, that you’re just not opening it up to invite future traffic,” Rothwell said.
“I’m afraid of contractors that are working in Southampton that have got to get to 105 will use that corridor now from Miller Place and everything else coming through, and picking it up in Wading River all the way down that way and it will just be a secondary main route,” Rothwell said.
DiBiase said the transfer of traffic from parallel roads would not be the same with a center turning as it would if the town were to double the lanes, since the center lane would only there to keep traffic flowing.
LKMA last week also recommended prohibiting parking along the length of Sound Avenue, which also met with resistance and was walked back in their presentation to the town board Thursday to “where appropriate.”
Hubbard, the town board liaison to the CAC, opposed the parking ban along the length of the road, because not many cars park on the side of the road, he said, and “aesthetically, having no parking signs up that entire length is horrible,” he said. He said the town should narrow it down to specific areas on the road where parking creates problems.
Murphree said the town already has certain areas on Sound Avenue — particularly east and west of Osborn Avenue, where parking is prohibited.
Another recommendation — one which also met with little enthusiasm among board members— was to decrease the speed limit on Sound Avenue.
“I’m a little bit concerned, because off-season, 45 [mph]seems to work really well. During the season, the speed limit finds its own limit, which is usually about five miles an hour,” Kern said. “Trying to reduce that offseason makes little sense.”
Rothwell said that if the town reduces the speed on the road, drivers may be more inclined to pass other cars moving slower, potentially resulting in more head-on collisions.
The board was split on whether they favored constructing bike lanes on Sound Avenue.
Councilman Frank Beyrodt said he liked the idea of dedicated bike lanes on Sound Avenue. “As it stands right now, bicycles on Sound Avenue is a bloody nightmare. We have some signage that says single file please, but I think with the widening and dedicated five foot bike section or bike path, I think that would really help with competing with cars and bikes,” he said.
Rothwell, on the other hand, said he is not a proponent of bike lanes on Sound Avenue. “Because of the rural character, you have tractors still crossing the road, pulling in and out, and you have large amounts of gravel and dirt that continuously come out on that road, which I think is very dangerous for a bike,” he said.
DiBiase’s presentation also discussed draft recommendations for other roads in the town, however, the board’s discussions on topics other than Sound Avenue were very brief.
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