Suffolk officials agreed to scale back the scope of a plan to mitigate accidents in which vehicles veer off the road — often hitting utility poles and knocking out power — along Montauk Highway from Horseblock Road to Smith Road in Brookhaven, following at an at-times contentious informational meeting at the Brookhaven Fire Department Wednesday.
“The sounds are horrific. Boom! Thud!” said Beth Sparrow, describing accidents where she lives near the Robinson Duck Farm Dog Park. “You’d swear there’s a poltergeist.”
Suffolk County’s Department of Public Works proposed eliminating the center median, expanding the shoulders by 5 feet on each side of Montauk Highway and adding road shards along the shoulders and an audible delineator down the center to alert distracted drivers.
Chief engineer William Hillman that after said the department looked at accident data from the years 2016, 2017 and 2018 along this stretch road, “It was clear we needed to do something.” He said the accidents were primarily eastbound “off-the-road accidents” to the south side.
He added that the county was talking to PSEG Long Island about moving some utility poles to the north side of the road to reduce accidents that lead to power outages.
But several first responders noted that they use the median to get through heavy traffic, and that the plan would prevent fire trucks from passing other motorists. They also voiced concerns that removing the center median could lead to more fatal accidents if motorists don’t have the room to avoid oncoming traffic.
Additionally, some residents who live off Montauk Highway were concerned about additional traffic congestion and problems getting into their driveways.
Hillman, who was joined by Alexander Prego, director of traffic engineering and highway permits, said that from a traffic and safety perspective, congestion improves safety.
“When you have a road that is wide, flat and straight, it is encouraging high speed,” he said.
Some residents suggested guardrails or other barriers along the road, greater police enforcement and putting the utility wires underground.
Hillman said he guardrails in that area were “a nonstarter” due to regulations and that major additional police presence was “an unrealistic expectation.”
Things got heated when Hillman responded to a first responder’s concern about access to the center lane by saying, “You shouldn’t be driving down the middle lane.”
Gregory Miglino Jr., chief of the South Country Ambulance Co., which serves the surrounding area, disagreed, and said he didn’t want the community to be “bullied” into a plan without its input.
“If everyone agrees that PSEG should relocate their poles and that it’s an enforcement issue, we can pack up and go home,” Hillman responded.
“You just told us this is what’s going to happen and that’s it,” Miglino said, raising his voice, adding that there have been cases in the past where the community has only gotten one option that is punitive to the people in the area does little to mitigate the problem.
Hillman and Prego proceeded to pack up their presentation, until Miglino agreed to leave the room and apologized to the group of about 80. After the meeting, Miglino said he stuck to the content of his comments.
As things settled down, following a give-and-take with residents, the Suffolk officials agreed to limit plans to adding reflective signs, seeking out more overhead lighting in cooperation with the Town of Brookhaven and adding shards along the current shoulders, though the county would have to investigate how those would impact bicycle riders.
“We can try things in an incremental approach,” Hillman said.
But they agreed to keep the center lane, which was a relief to Rosalie Petersen, who has lived off Montauk Highway across from the Robinson Duck Farm Dog Park next to Sparrow for the past 12 years.
“We need the turn lane because you can wait a long time to get into your driveway, Petersen said. “We’re on the right path. It’s a start.”
Above: Alexander Prego, director of traffic engineering and highway permits, describes the county’s initial proposal for changes to Montauk Highway to mitigate “off-the road accidents.”