Fall traffic on the North Fork has become a major quality-of-life issue — and one without an obvious solution. Crowds coming our way for what used to be called “wine tasting,” long afternoons at breweries and “agritainment” centers that are more like amusement parks draw enormous numbers of people and cars. A common refrain heard on weekends is that the drive from Riverhead to Mattituck can take over an hour.
For so many years, Sound Avenue in Riverhead was a rural road. It is also a historic roadway that showcases the North Fork’s farming past and present. On weekends in the fall it is now pretty much a parking lot, with cars moving barely more than 10 miles per hour to get to various roadside attractions, where they can buy doughnuts and pumpkins — items that, based on the volume of buyers out here, must have been banned farther west.
The Harbes Orchard Farm on Sound Avenue has become so popular that Riverhead Town officials have posted “no parking” signs near the business, and police are working with the Harbes family on ways to find solutions. East of the Orchard Farm, the Harbes Family Farm has also generated traffic problems.
Both are successful businesses, and that is a good thing for the family, for the tourism industry as a whole and for people who drive east looking for a “rural” experience. The North Fork’s rich farming past was mostly anchored in potatoes and cauliflower. Those days are long gone. Nowadays, you almost never see the old V-shaped trucks lumbering down the road overflowing with potatoes. For farming operations to support themselves today, the old model of a roadside farm stand selling only what that farmer grows has been reimagined into more of an entertainment center.
We are lucky to have what we have here. The big three — farmland, salt creeks and the Peconic Bay — are the goose that laid the golden egg on the North Fork. Every public figure in office or considering running for office must focus on preserving those three.
But our success at holding on to our quality of life has brought issues such as traffic congestion. Resistance has grown against potential agritainment venues — witness the recent outcry from Orient residents over the construction of a 9,000-square-foot barn on a farm in that hamlet. At least in Orient, the pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction and away from support for anything that, on the surface, promotes itself as a farming operation.
In both Riverhead and Southold, among the leading complaints to Town Hall are about traffic. There are no simple solutions. Sound Avenue cannot be widened; turning lanes cannot be constructed. Sound Avenue is an old country road, not engineered for what it is experiencing now. Mile-long limousines are no more suited for these country roads than horses and buggies.
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter correctly points out that fall gridlock is pretty much a six-week issue. And Southold Supervisor Scott Russell is also correct when he says that the public would not support investments in infrastructure. “If we were to propose widening Sound Avenue, we would be covered with a particularly thick coat of tar and feathers,” Mr. Russell said. He is right.
Sound Avenue is such a great road. You can see the old, what used to be, at Hallockville Museum Farm, and the new, what is ‘farming’ today, at the Harbes family businesses. They are all within a few miles of each other. Our past is our present.