After tragic crash in East Marion, state DOT will lower speed limit on causeway

Bob Hulsmann knew something was truly off with the speed limits on the causeway in East Marion even before a horrific head-on collision and car fire on Feb. 17 that claimed the lives of four people in two vehicles.

What made no sense to Mr. Hulsmann — or to the New York State Department of Transportation after he contacted them — was that for a quarter-mile the causeway’s posted speed limit is 50 miles per hour. On either side of that quarter-mile section of road the speed limit is 40 miles per hour. 

So let’s say you are driving east toward Orient. As you leave the hamlet of East Marion and enter the causeway — where dramatic water views on both sides of the road draw your attention — the sign says 50 mph. Exactly a quarter-mile later, near Truman’s Beach, the sign says 40 mph.


“I go to Greenport often to get breakfast,” Mr. Hulsmann said as he stood with a reporter on the causeway near the 50 mph sign. “When people going east come onto the causeway, that sign encourages them to speed — but only for a quarter-mile.”

He pointed east toward the 40 mph sign. “Right there, just a bit west of that sign, was where the accident was,” he added.

That collision involved a westbound Tesla and an eastbound Ford Explorer. Upon impact, the Tesla’s lithium ion battery burst into flames, engulfing both cars. Two people died in each vehicle and local law enforcement said the fire’s intensity made extinguishing it very difficult.

Horrified by the accident, Mr. Hulsmann wrote the New York State DOT on March 22 to make his feelings clear: A speed limit of 50 mph on this tiny stretch of road makes no sense. 

“This less than one-quarter mile of road has beautiful Orient Harbor on the south side and Dam Pond on the north side,” he wrote. “Many cars stop to take in the view of the harbor and people even walk over to the Dam Pond side. Slowing down would certainly help.

“It would be something good that could come out of this horrific accident if the speed limit for the entire causeway were made 40 miles per hour,” he added. “It would save lives.”

Just days later, Mr. Hulsmann said, the state DOT wrote back, acknowledging his letter. Then, on April 24, he received a letter from M.T. Vijayendran, the state’s regional traffic engineer, that said this: “Based on an investigation, the NYSDOT will lower the 50 MPH speed limit to 40 MPH and will replace the signs to reflect the change of speed regulation. The sign work will be done by DOT maintenance group as soon as their work schedule permits.”

It was a triumph, Mr. Hulsmann knew, that a concerned citizen had written a state agency and gotten results. 

“I’m very thankful they responded,” he said. “I was surprised they did, but I am grateful.”