There is a light at the end of the tunnel for drivers who must travel through Hampton Bays during the week, and it is not an oncoming train.
Motorists who have been forced to sit in traffic at several points along Montauk Highway for the past few months due to two unrelated construction projects—drainage upgrades and street repairs just east of the Shinnecock Canal and ongoing repairs to three train bridges in the hamlet—can take some comfort knowing that one of the projects should be finished by the end of this month.
Though they have been inconvenienced at some point this winter by the projects, which are in close vicinity to one another, many residents realize that the situation is only temporary and there is no point in getting upset over it ... at least not until Memorial Day.
“For now, it is only about 10 additional minutes to my drive,” said Hampton Bays resident Patricia Botypka this week. “But the summer tourists will certainly not be happy.”
The drainage project on Montauk Highway, between Hillover Road and Maidstone Lane, is being overseen by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works. Reconstruction began last August and the $1.2 million project included the installation of new drainage vortex units under Montauk Highway that are designed to reduce flooding along the two-lane road and prevent sediments from directly entering Shinnecock Bay. The old drainage pipe at the site did not include a filter and allowed stormwater runoff to flow directly into the bay.
According to Bill Hillman, the chief engineer for the Suffolk County DPW, which funded the project, the drainage work is mostly completed and, over the next two weeks, a final paving effort will be under way both to the east and west of the primary site. Once the additional $567,000 in paving work is completed, the project will be deemed finished and, as a result, congestion along that stretch of Montauk Highway should ease up considerably, according to Mr. Hillman.
“We have had a couple of traffic issues but, in general, it has gone very well,” he said this week.
Longtime Hampton Bays resident Steve Sauter said he is happy that the paving project is almost done, noting that it should offer some relief to drivers in the area.
“That road is beautiful now,” Mr. Sauter said. “It took them a long time to get that done, but thank God that is over with.”
Mr. Hillman pointed out that while traffic was most congested during the morning and afternoon rush hours, the problem escalated in January when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority closed nearby North Road as part of an ongoing reconstruction project that targets its North Road, Montauk Highway and Shinnecock Canal train bridges. While North Road should reopen before Memorial Day, work on the Montauk Highway bridge is expected to continue throughout the summer and possibly into the fall, according to Salvatore Arena, a spokesman for the MTA.
“The closure of North Road at the railroad—that has complicated things,” Mr. Hillman said, “but we have done the best we can to mitigate that.
Ongoing work at the Montauk Highway train bridge is also disrupting the flow of traffic on Montauk Highway. That work is part of a $26.2 million reconstruction project that was announced in September and is expected to increase the life span of all three bridges by 35 to 40 years. Along with being waterproofed and receiving a new paint job, the bridge is being raised 5 inches to allow for better clearance, according to a press release issued by the MTA.
Over the weekend, Southampton Town issued its own press release stating that Long Island Rail Road engineers working on the Montauk Highway bridge have begun installing structural steel and expect to soon remove large pieces of the bridge over the next few weeks, resulting in full lane closures for short periods of time. The MTA said the closures, which will last up to 10 minutes, will be scheduled intermittently until Tuesday, April 10. Workers have been periodically closing one lane of Montauk Highway at the bridge for the past two months, but they have yet to close both lanes at the same time.
In some instances, drivers heading east along Montauk Highway have been stuck in traffic jams that back up as far west as Flanders Road, near the Hampton Bays Diner, according to Mr. Sauter, who lives on West Tiana Road, near the Montauk Highway bridge.
“You have to have a lot of patience and you have to wait your turn,” Mr. Sauter said. “You really don’t realize how big or busy Hampton Bays is until they stop the traffic for five or 10 minutes.”
For some drivers who must drive through Hampton Bays, like East Quogue resident Sebastian Pica, the bridge project adds only an additional 10 minutes to his normal drive, something that he says is fine. However, he foresees traffic becoming a bigger issue in the summer.