Thursday, June 14, 2007

Going in circles

Deja vu. That's how I felt reading Tim Gannon's story about the town and county discussing ways to solve the Route 58 traffic nightmare. I've read this story before. More than once. Tim Gannon must feel like the weatherman character played by Bill Murray in Groundhog Day — stuck in the same story.

Route 58 is a mess. Not only is it inconvenient, it's a safety hazard. It's the route to our community hospital.

Traffic levels have outgrown the capacity of this two-lane "Old Country Road." It was built as a by-pass for people traveling to points on the North Fork, so they wouldn't get snagged in traffic on Main Street in what was then a bustling regional commercial hub: downtown Riverhead.

The town has allowed intense commercial development along Route 58. The existing road can't handle the volume of vehicles using it.

Rt. 58 must be widened. It can't be widened with the existing traffic circle in place. The obvious thing to do is remove the circle. The county has been recommending these changes for 20 years. The county would have started the work (Rt. 58 is a county road) many years ago (at a fraction of the cost of what it's going to cost today). But the town wouldn't agree to remove the circle. (Rt. 58 intersects with a town road, Roanoke Avenue, where the circle is,so the town must agree.) We've been having these same discussions for 20 years.

The traffic engineers who prepared the "traffic element" of the town's master plan several years ago recommended that Rt. 58 be widened and the circle be removed.

Residents and some town officials went bonkers (as usual) at the idea of removing the circle.

So the traffic engineers changed their recommendation. They then proposed the circle be expanded to a two-lane circle. Lots of luck with that. (My prediction: same bottleneck, more motorist confusion, more accidents.) But that wasn't the traffic consultants' original advice.

County and town officials recently met (again) to discuss (again) what to do about Rt. 58. The county public works people said (again) Rt. 58 should be widened to four lanes in each direction. They also said (again) the circle must go. Riverhead officials (again) objected. DPW said let's agree we'll go with the recommendations of traffic engineers (again). Town officials argued the engineers already recommended a two-lane circle. But that's not quite true. That was the engineers' fall-back position after the town rejected (again) the idea of removing the circle.

That circle is part of our heritage, says Councilman Ed Densieski, who is leaving his council seat to run for highway superintendent. Like many Riverheaders, he is emotionally attached to that circle. I guess it's nostalgia; it reminds them of a simpler, quieter time in our little town, the good ol' days.

It's fitting that our government leaders see a circle as something emblematic of Riverhead. Riverhead government is pretty good at going in circles, after all.

You know, I have a funny feeling. I could swear I've written this column before...

I guess it's just deja vu all over again.


Anonymous said...

Yes there is a certain amount of nostalgia connected to the Rt 58 circle. Remember when Larry Judd cut down the tree in the middle? Perhaps that was his attempt do away with the obstacle the circle has become rather than the prank we assumed it to be. The inevitable commercial growth on Rt 58 does produce increased traffic but is not the sole contributor to the problem.
Many years ago there was a plan. The Long Island Expressway was meant to be continued east beyond Riverhead. Unfortunately, the state did not have the funds or the foresight to purchase or option the required land at the time. Years later when a representative of the state was shown a map of the old 'proposed extension' it was a revelation to him. The through traffic could have been eliminated by this extension but by the time the state was reminded of that plan the land value had appreciated to a point that made it economically unfeasible. 'Can't afford to do it and can't afford not to do something. The circle probably has to go. It's not the best solution but it's probably the only affordable one.

Anonymous said...

The following excerpt from the Boston Globe may offer some insight to those that feel removing the rotary will ease traffic congestion:

Dream ride to Cape, but a nightmare driving home
By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff | May 30, 2007
For thousands of visitors, going to Cape Cod over Memorial Day weekend was much easier and more pleasant than heading home.

The new $60 million flyover, which erased the hated rotary at the base of the Sagamore Bridge, smoothed Cape-bound travel on Friday and Saturday. But drivers returning from the Cape Monday found themselves in a worse-than-usual traffic nightmare, with backups that stretched as far as 17 miles to Yarmouth at midafternoon.

To avoid a repeat this summer, state transportation officials said yesterday they plan to install electronic signs urging vacationers to stagger their departure from the Cape as well as their arrival. Officials said they will also look at possible changes to the roadways around Exit 1, where Route 6A merges into Route 6 at the base of the bridge.
The merge is on the other side of the bridge from the flyover, the two-year project completed in October that replaced the roundabout at the intersection of Routes 3 and 6, which traditionally tied up Cape-bound traffic.

BE said...

I wanted t se if you put in HOW MUCH MONEY we have spent on traffic studies over the years on this.
Such a debacle.

ceil said...

Hi Denise - I question why the town
allowed route 58 to be commercially developed in the first place without considering the
far-reaching consequences of the traffic problems that resulted.

It's like putting the cart before the horse - short-sighted to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Response to Ceil,
It's called progress. Had the state kept up their part of the plan we might not be dealing with this now.
The fact is that those stores would not be here if there were not a demand for them. The towns have made efforts to limit growth through farmland preservation and up-zoning but there are only so many ways that you can limit a property owners right to use their own land. The question is, what should be done now?