Order Emerges from Chaos at Roundabout on Route 114

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A cyclist makes it through the still-under-construction roundabout on Route 114 in East Hampton. Peter Boody photo

For months now, drivers headed from Sag Harbor into East Hampton have run into what looked like a battle zone of rough pavement, potholes, traffic cones, warning signs, a new curving right of way and construction equipment at the misaligned and notoriously dysfunctional intersection of Route 114, Buell Lane, Buell Lane Extension, and Toilsome Lane.

Slowly but surely, after delays caused by bad weather and other issues, order has been emerging from the chaos.

Drivers now encounter a curbed center island with a stone apron and curbed “lane splitters” dividing traffic at the entry points of each connecting road — with an especially long and curving one to guide drivers to and from Toilsome Lane’s extension to Montauk Highway.

Called a “roundabout” by traffic engineers, East Hampton Village’s new layout at the intersection known as Five Corners is not finished: construction workers and traffic cones are still on the scene. But it’s fully functional.

Yield signs warn approaching drivers to give way to traffic inside the circular roadway before entering it. Once they have joined the flow, it’s a simple matter of making a right turn to continue onto whichever road they want.

“Pay attention to the workers and the signage!” was the plea to drivers made by East Hampton Village Administrator Becky Hansen this week in an interview to talk about the status of the project. “Don’t be a distracted driver!”

She acknowledged that delays, the traffic cones, rough surface and general sense of confusion have frustrated some drivers. She said the village was frustrated, too, but “every day the contractor continues is one day closer to getting it all done.”

“It takes time” for people to get used to it, she added, and with the roundabout now in place if not completely finished, she is beginning to get compliments on the improved traffic flow, she said.

New pavement, final signage and lane markings had yet to be completed by early this week. All that, and the final landscaping, won’t be finished until fall, according to Ms. Hansen.

When construction started last fall, the village had hoped to be done by Memorial Day. But having to wait for utility companies to relocate electric, gas and water lines for the project, and then seemingly endless bouts of bad weather, caused long delays.

Initially, the village had intended to stop work when the school year ended so it wouldn’t interfere with summer traffic. But after all the delays, it was agreed to let the work continue unless it became an issue. It was to be suspended, however, for the July 4 holiday.

The state DOT, which has jurisdiction over Route 114, has been urging the village to consider a roundabout at Five Corners for about a decade. The Village Board initially resisted, in part because of the village’s share of the cost and in part because drivers initially didn’t like a mini-roundabout the Town of Southampton built at Scuttle Hole Road and Mitchell Lane around then.

A true roundabout built by the state earlier on Route 114 in North Haven, however — similar in size if not all its alignments to the one at Five Corners — has been celebrated as a vast improvement over the old stop-sign arrangement there.

By eliminating left turns across oncoming traffic, as well as stop signs, roundabouts keep traffic moving while dramatically reducing the potential for serious head-on and T-bone crashes, according to the state DOT.

The state is careful to distinguish roundabouts from “traffic circles,” which are much larger. They were common decades ago on major-artery converge points but have fallen out of favor with highway planners.

The U.S. has been late to accepting the roundabout as a traffic-calming device. They have been common in Europe for many years.

Ms. Hansen noted that the Five Corners roundabout “is not a true roundabout. It’s more like a high school science project with an amoeba-type shape,” she said, because of the displacement of Toilsome Lane from the actual intersection of Route 114 with Buell Lane Extension and Highway Behind the Lots, south of which Route 114 becomes Buell Lane.

The East Hampton Village Board decided three years ago to go ahead after a state grant of $700,000 was awarded for the $1.3million project. It wasn’t until September 2017 that the village went out to bid.

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”