Guest Spot: Federal bill to allow large trailers on our roads

The community of Orient — and the greater North Fork community — came out strong this past March to oppose increased truck traffic on the single road that runs through our hamlet.

Elected officials listened and the Cross Sound Enhancement Project, which would have increased heavy truck traffic by 25 percent, was withdrawn from the Regional Plan. We are now faced with a new crisis posing the same dangers to our community. The U.S. Senate is considering a Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill that would allow double 33-foot trailers (66 feet) and trailers up to 84 feet overall to use all roads in the National Highway System, including Route 25, Sound Avenue and Route 48. This provision would permit these oversized trucks to use these roads despite the fact that New York State law currently prohibits such use.

Our Route 25 is a rural, two-lane road that runs through the hamlets of Orient, East Marion, much of Southold and the Village of Greenport. It is a New York State-designated scenic byway and a Suffolk County-designated Critical Environmental Area. Route 25 is part of the Coastal Evacuation Route for the North Fork, and it is the only through-road in the hamlets of Orient and East Marion. When Route 25 is closed or blocked, as it routinely is due to an accident or storm, there is no exit from these hamlets. At a foot or two above sea level, the causeway connecting Orient and East Marion is flooded in nearly every major storm and is predicted to be eventually inundated as sea levels rise.

The existing car and truck traffic must share this small country road with farm equipment, bicyclists, visitors and local residents accessing farm stands, beaches and wineries that are directly on that road, and children getting on and off school buses that stop along its length. The present level of traffic routinely prevents local cars from leaving their driveways or accessing Route 25 from side streets for extended periods of time as unloading ferries spew an unbroken stream of vehicles, often exceeding the 30- and 40-mile-per-hour speed limits.

Numerous homes, many built in the 19th century, sit a few dozen feet from the roadway and are shaken and damaged by the existing levels of traffic. The road runs directly through a designated historic district and passes in front of several designated historic buildings, all of which are at risk. The residents of Orient, East Marion, Greenport and all of Southold are entitled to reasonable, quiet enjoyment of their homes, which would be materially diminished by noise, pollution and congestion if truck or even passenger car traffic were to escalate.

The conditions of Route 25 also cannot tolerate increased traffic. The level of potholes and other crumbling surfaces, which local officials struggle to address, is already intolerable and damages vehicles currently using this route. Truck traffic poses a much greater strain on road surfaces. Further, in many places there is little to no shoulder and no passing lanes, and any obstruction effectively blocks the road. Sound Avenue and Route 48 share most of these same characteristics and would be similarly disrupted with any increase in truck traffic.

The proposed changes to allow trailers up to 84 feet long would represent an increase of more than 50 percent over the current 54-foot-long standard trailers, and the proposed new double trailer maximum is over 30 percent greater than the current limit. These behemoths would pose a serious threat to the safety of all the residents, as well as a massive disruption to the quality of life on the North Fork.

We ask you to join the Orient Association and other community groups and leaders in opposing this legislation, which would threaten to undo the good work that we have accomplished in blocking the Cross Sound project. If this legislation is passed despite our opposition, we must work to ensure that New York State, Suffolk County and Southold Town have the ability to opt out of these provisions and maintain the current limits on truck size for these sensitive roads.

Please alert your neighbors and contact your elected representatives to voice your concern.

The author is an Orient resident and the president of the Orient Association.