Column: One man’s take on driving Route 48

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10/20/2010 5:16 PM |

I’m not exactly new to the North Fork but when I drive your big four-lane Route 48 between Southold and Mattituck and back three days a week, I sometimes feel like a shellshocked visitor from East Podunk. There are things about the design and flow of that road that makes drivers do crazy things.
I live on the South Fork, where we have the insanity of County Road 39, that notorious four-lane funnel between the end of Sunrise Highway and Southampton Village. But you know what? Route 48 is nuttier because it has far more potential for conflict even as its sweeping sightlines lure drivers into speeds well above 70.
I first learned the ins and outs of North Fork geography delivering Dan’s Papers during the summer of 1970, when I was a college kid with a beard and ponytail. Back then, things were pretty laid back around here off-season. Things have changed. Now I’m bald and looking at your world with new eyes, through glasses I didn’t need back then. And you have a lot more people rushing around in their cars, every day of the week, all year long.
I do still like to drive. I’ve been logging plenty of hours at it, commuting to Mattituck. From the ferry terminal in Greenport, the fastest way, of course, is via Route 48 because the average speed of its traffic flow is nearly supersonic. “This is great!” I thought, as long as I can pull off this 70 mph stuff without getting a ticket. So far, so good. In fact, I’ve rarely seen anyone pulled over during my commutes.
There are other risks.
One is the potential for getting rear-ended by little girls going 85 in their Camrys or a bunch of workers in their careering van going even faster, despite a wobbling rear wheel and cracked windshield.
There’s also fair chance, over time, of one day T-boning some goofball who’s tired of waiting at a crossroad stop sign, or one of the many driveways along the roadside, and decides to make a run for it. When someone pulled out in front of me this summer, I would have hit him unless I’d slammed on the brakes.
How about farm vehicles that pull safely into a traffic gap in the right-hand lane but cannot accelerate above 40 so are soon overtaken by a crazed steel and aluminum herd animals? I don’t blame the farmers and their workers for this bad scene. I blame a road that’s laid out to make drivers act as if they’re on an interstate in the middle of nowhere.
Pity the poor old timers who roll onto Route 48. The North Fork has a lot of senior citizens, people who are past the age of get-there-itis. They don’t want to get anywhere fast. They have their reasons and I respect them. But I’ve seen pods of speedsters, eight or nine vehicles in a pack wedged side by side in two lanes, come up on some poor old fellow in a mint-condition 1992 Buick, like something in the chariot scene from “Ben Hur,” all slamming on their brakes and lurching sideways at each other because the drivers in the right lane wish so hard they could change lanes, even though another vehicle is in the way, that they actually turn the wheel and drift within inches of a sideswipe.
Route 48 looks and feels like a limited-access highway, but it is not. There are, in fact, lots of access points: driveways and major crossroads with only stop signs and traffic lights to save your life. There are big, hard obstacles just off the narrow shoulders. And, of course, there are more and more drivers these days who don’t drive well, either because they don’t know what that means, or our culture encourages sociopathy, or they’re on their phones or doing their hair or a crossword puzzle while they have a little free time.
Every day, it’s an adventure on any busy road, but Route 48 is something else.

Peter Boody is managing editor of The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-298-3200, ext. 228.