Wooden guide rails, the same kind used by New York State on the roads in its park system, have replaced the steel barriers along Short Beach Road between Bay Point and the entryway to North Haven, five years after the Suffolk County Department of Public Works installed them as a safety measure without public notice, touching off a firestorm of community protest.
Some of those who complained the guide rails were ugly and unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists and pleaded with the county to take them away aren’t thrilled with the change, which the DPW began making in late April. The work was expected to be completed in two weeks.
“It’s better than the metal,” said Elena Loreto, president of the Noyac Civic Council, speaking for herself and not the council. “It’s more aesthetically pleasing; but I don’t like guard rails in that location. They disturb the rural character of the area and they are a safety issue for walkers and cyclists,” forcing them to walk or ride too close to traffic. “There’s no room there for error,” she said, and no way to escape a vehicle invading the shoulder.
North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander also opposed the steel guide rails and helped lobby for the wooden replacements. “There was a tremendous hue and cry when they put them in,” he said of the steel barriers, “but the county was steadfast in its position that it was a safety issue.”
He credited County Legislator Bridget Fleming with proposing a switch to a “more attractive” wood structure as a compromise but still the county resisted, citing the cost.
“It’s a shame we had to go through so much to get it right,” Legislator Fleming said on Tuesday.
It was only after Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. secured a $250,000 state grant in 2016 to pay for the switch that the county DPW agreed to consider the change. It took until May 2018 for Legislator Fleming to secure passage of an amendment by the County Legislature to the capital budget to allow the county to accept the funding.
Ms. Fleming also sponsored and saw the legislature pass legislation that requires the DPW to notify local officials before undertaking local projects such as the original guide rail installation.
“I’ve got to say, between Bridget and Fred, they made this thing happen,” Mr. Sander said Monday.
Ms. Fleming noted the barriers — both the wood and steel versions — are “guide rails,” not guardrails, because they are not designed to restrain a vehicle going from off the road. They are instead visual guides.
The steel guardrails were installed in 2014 without public notice after the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee urged the county to install them following a head-on collision in 2013 in which a truck wound up on the beach. County engineers determined there was a safety issued that could be addressed by the barriers.
George Tucker, chair of the Noyac CAC, did not return a phone message by midweek.