East Hampton Town planners want the Town Board to consider creating a traffic circle, or roundabout, at the intersection of Stephen Hands Path, Long Lane and Two Holes of Water Road.
Highway and planning officials pitched the idea to the Town Board last week, saying it would make the intersection safer, ease chronic speeding on the roadway, and allow the installation of better drainage and the restoration of vegetation along some of the roadsides.
“This time of year, even at the beginning of summer, it’s difficult to get out of Long Lane and Two Holes of Water,” Highway Superintendent Steve Lynch said on Tuesday, June 18. “As we get into July, it’s almost impossible to get out of Two Holes of Water. Nobody is doing 30 miles per hour there.”
Mr. Lynch said the town right-of-way on Stephen Hands Path is wide enough that the roundabout could be made sufficiently large to allow long trucks to navigate it and for traffic to flow through it easily.
Town Planning Director Marguerite Wolffsohn said the town can explore a wide array of layouts, including some specifically designed for rural roads, and that the project will help with the delays and dangerous situations for those trying to pull onto heavily trafficked Stephen Hands Path in summer.
“Roundabouts are way safer than regular intersections,” she said. “The show ‘MythBusters’ did an experiment with a roundabout, a four-way stop and a traffic cop, and the roundabout won, hands down, in terms of the amount of traffic that moved through it.”
She noted that the intersection had once had thick growths of trees and bushes around it, until a fatal accident spurred former Highway Superintendent Chris Russo to remove vast swaths of vegetation. People were outraged at the time, she recalled, but ultimately found the views across farm fields that it created a beloved improvement.
Both Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Jeff Bragman raised concerns about the impact on the rural character of the area, with Mr. Bragman saying he was against the idea at first blush.
“I drive that intersection every day. And I know the benefits of roundabouts, but I also know the benefit of that intersection. Going in either direction, it’s one of the most sterling rural views that we have in the Town of East Hampton,” he said. “It is a scenic area of local significance. The town has spent dollars acquiring lands along Long Lane that are part of our endowment.”
Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said that the growing hazards at the intersection demand that something be done to make it safer and quicker for cars to enter Stephen Hands Path from the side streets, but he noted that making the roadway a four-way stop would back up traffic in both directions to the point that it could cause gridlock where the road meets Route 114 to the south and Cedar Street to the north.
He noted that the roundabout built on Scuttle Hole Road, while it has had its critics for its aesthetics and problems that its small size has caused for large buses and trucks, has eased the long backups that used to build on Mitchell Lane.
“There is nothing rural about this spot in July,” he said of the Stephen Hands Path corridor. “I’m open to addressing this problem, because I think it is a problem that requires us to address it.”
Mr. Lynch and Ms. Wolffsohn said the Town Board would need to allocate funding for some preliminary engineering work to be done, so that the options for a potential roundabout’s cosmetic and traffic routing design can be explored by the town.
“At this point, you are up to exploring the alternatives looking at different designs and seeing what works,” Ms. Wolffsohn said. “Yes, you want to come up with something that doesn’t look like an urban intersection. I think it’s possible—but let’s take a look at it and see.”