Calls to change turn signals along Route 48 in Southold Town

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Drivers are often confused by the "left turn yield on green" signs on Route 48, including this one at Cox Neck Lane.

Hardly a week goes by in Southold Town without a major accident somewhere along the four-lane section of County Road 48, which extends more than eight miles from Cox Neck Road in Mattituck to Tucker’s Lane in Southold. Three fatalities have been reported along that stretch of road since the beginning of June, including one this week in which pedestrian Nery Javier-Lopez was struck by three cars and died on the side of the highway.

Most of the accidents occur at intersections along that road and, based on an informal survey of recent accidents reported in the police blotter, they appear to occur with overwhelming frequency at intersections where a driver is making a left turn and doesn’t yield the right of way to oncoming traffic in the other lane.

Part of the confusion, according to Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, is the road’s strange left turn signal lights, which are different from those found along nearly every other road on Long Island. The solid green lights in the left turn lane may seem to a casual observer to mean that left turns can be made without stopping, despite a small sign hanging from the traffic signal wires that states “left turn yield on green.”

Mr. Russell wants Suffolk County to change the signals so that left turn arrows turn green only when oncoming traffic in the opposite lane is at a standstill at a red light.

The problem lights aren’t limited to a small section of the four-lane highway. From the western edge of the highway, yield-on-green lights are currently installed at Cox Neck Lane, Westphalia and Wickham avenues in Mattituck, Cox Lane in Cutchogue and Peconic Lane in Peconic.

The lights are more than just a nuisance, according to residents who live along Route 48. Last month, 96-year-old Judy Utter, long a familiar face at the North Fork Community Theatre, died while making a left turn from Route 48 onto Wickham Avenue in front of a truck loaded with hot asphalt.

“That terrible day when the accident happened, she was making a left-hand turn and was struck by an asphalt truck, which toppled over and killed her instantly,” Wickham Avenue resident Leroy Heyliger told the Town Board last week. “It was a terrible accident. We’ve had a lot of accidents there.”

Mr. Russell said both he and the Mattituck Fire District have asked the Suffolk County Commissioner of Public Works to study that intersection, and he has asked the county to install turning signals and do a study of traffic calming along the entire stretch of Route 48.

East Islip motorcyclist William Helmsorig died in early June at the intersection of Route 48 and Albertson Lane, after a driver failed to yield the right of way when making a left hand turn, though there is no light at that intersection.

“Route 48 isn’t the road we remember growing up,” said Mr. Russell. “We’re asking the county to bring a traffic calming solution to the section of the road they control.”

Suffolk County Commissioner of Public Works Gil Anderson could not be reached for comment, but Mr. Russell said he was optimistic that the county would come through.

“Gil’s usually very responsive. The guy’s been good to Southold,” said Mr. Russell.

In the meantime, Southold Town Police have stepped up speeding enforcement along the road, with the help of a New York State grant program that pays officers to work overtime to stop aggressive driving.

“Anybody that uses that roadway can see the volume of traffic this summer has been extremely high, probably higher than we’ve ever seen,” Police Chief Martin Flatley said this week. “Lately, we have had some bad accidents up there. I think it’s very indicative of the traffic we have up there. It’s a constant battle to reduce the number of vehicles speeding.”

Chief Flatley said there have been a number of fatalities over the years, including a bicyclist who was killed last year not far from where the motorcyclist was killed this year.

“People are coming off the Expressway and they still want to do 70 miles per hour,” he said. “Route 48 doesn’t have exit and entrance ramps. It’s a full access highway. The road was built at least 40 years ago, when it didn’t have to handle a high volume of traffic.”

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