A summer with ferry lines like never before

08/23/2013 11:00 AM |

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Ruth Lapin took it upon herself to direct traffic last Thursday afternoon as vehicles which properly entered the ferry line from Wiggins Street were cut off by vehicles trying to enter the line from Third Street.

Drivers familiar with how the North Ferry operates in Greenport know that the route you follow to board a ship headed for Shelter Island takes you down Wiggins Street. Even some folks who don’t know that see the signs along Main Road directing them there.

But drivers using GPS systems to find the Greenport ferry terminal are being led in a different direction, causing confusion and tension as they cut the summer lines.

It’s a situation that’s played out frequently throughout the busy season, particularly on three days when major accidents in Southampton led drivers to use Shelter Island as a shortcut to the South Fork.

“People aren’t aware of the traffic patterns down there,” Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said in an interview last month, on a day when a fatal crash on Route 39 in Southampton led to delays of more than an hour to board the ferry. “[They] went right down Third Street and cut in front of those waiting and went right on the ferry — and that doesn’t go over well.”

Last Thursday, a day that saw yet another traffic slowdown due to a crash in Southampton, drivers could be seen getting out of their cars, parked in the line down Wiggins Street, to tell drivers along Third Street to turn around and access the line the proper way.

One former area resident, Ruth Lapin, began turning back motorists in a Third Street line that stretched to as many as 20 vehicles that day. “That’s not fair,” said one man she attempted to redirect after he’d already waited more than 20 minutes on the wrong line.

On weekends, both ferry personnel and Southold police man the area at anticipated times of key traffic movement to try to keep lines moving efficiently. But when an unanticipated incident disrupts normal traffic flow, creating a ferry line backup, it’s not always possible for personnel to respond, both ferry and police officials have said. Last Wednesday, for example, there was no indication a problem would occur when trailers carrying sunfish for a regatta in the Hamptons and horses bound for the Hamptons Classic jammed the Greenport access to the Greenport ferry unannounced, causing hour-long delays, said North Ferry general manager Bridg Hunt.

Mr. Hunt and public officials contacted for this story said no clear plan is currently in the works to help solve the problem, though Greenport Mayor David Nyce said at Monday’s village work session that a meeting has been scheduled with North Ferry to discuss the situation.

Mr. Nyce told The Suffolk Times last week that a proposal to create a viable transportation hub, which has been on the table for several years, might have helped with the issue. That proposal stalled due to a lack of service to the Long Island Rail Road station in Greenport, which is adjacent to the ferry terminal.

The mayor said that plan called for redirecting ferry traffic onto Fourth Street before ultimately leading drivers down a road that would have been paved on LIRR property behind the East End Seaport Museum.

In order for that plan to be implemented, the MTA would have to agree to allow its property to be used for such a purpose, Mr. Nyce said. Then there’s the issue of who would pay for paving the road and installing new signage — expenses Mr. Nyce said the village can’t afford.

When asked about that proposal this week, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Sal Arena said he isn’t even aware of such a plan.

Greenport trustees Mary Bess Phillips and George Hubbard told The Suffolk Times this week that they believe both the North Ferry and the Southold Town Police Department could play larger roles in helping to ease the problem by better directing traffic where the two lines often intersect.

Ms. Phillips said she believes North Ferry should be contributing money to help deal with increased ferry activity and not leave the cost of traffic control to be absorbed by taxpayers and the police department.

“And Southold police need to give Greenport a little more service than they [do],” she said.

Mr. Hubbard uses the North Ferry every day to reach his auto repair shop on Shelter Island. He echoed his colleague’s sentiment, saying the town and village are bearing the costs “for a private company that’s using public roads. [North Ferry is] supposed to be a good neighbor and sometimes it’s not.”

Mr. Hunt and Chief Flatley said there’s no easy answer to relieving congestion at the southern end of Third Street, where the ferries load and unload, and that blame shouldn’t be laid on them alone.

Mr. Hunt said there are times when his employees ask motorists trying to cut the line by entering from Third Street to turn around and go west on Front Street, then south on Sixth Street to Wiggins.

“We really are trying to help the neighborhood,” Mr. Hunt said.

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