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.