Planned stoplight on Liberty Ave hits a road bump

Planned stoplight on Liberty Ave hits a road bump

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Street sign for the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Main Street. Photo by Kyle Barr

Fire department says light is unnecessary

Red means stop. 

Motorists traveling down Main Street in the Village of Port Jefferson may soon come face to face with a new traffic light at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Main Street. That corner is notorious for traffic especially around 2 p.m. when the high school and middle school lets out.

The new light is planned to be installed with a 3M Opticom system, which allows emergency vehicles to automatically change a light while they are moving through. While these could mean a more orderly road, the Port Jefferson Fire Department has said it would need to add costly upgrades to their emergency vehicles to be usable by the department.

“We’re going to have to work with the fire department because they need those mechanisms in their trucks, whether they’re installed in the lights or not,” village Mayor Margot Garant said. “We need to mitigate the way that traffic is flying down the hill.”

“They should already have them — these are not the first traffic lights we’re installing in Port Jeff.”

— Margot Garant

The New York State Department of Transportation confirmed it will make those changes to the intersection and pay the costs of installation, as well as change the island at the corner of Barnum Avenue and Main Street to make it a single crosswalk instead of two crosswalks separated by the current island.

Plans have changed since they were initially introduced to the community. Originally those plans called for an island on Main Street just after the Liberty intersection. However, that island has since been changed to double yellow lines after concerns came up about getting snowplows through.

The most contentious part of the new plans comes from the fire department, which worries about the expensive cost of getting the Opticom system installed on all 17 of the department’s first-responding vehicles.

Garant said she is willing to have the village partner with the fire department in seeking grant funding. This would be especially important with more stop lights planned for different parts of the village, including at the top of Belle Terre Road, Sheep Pasture Road and Myrtle Avenue, the latter light will have an Opticom box donated from Suffolk County, according to the village mayor. 

“They should already have them — these are not the first traffic lights we’re installing in Port Jeff,” Garant said. “All of our lights should have that capability to have the fire department change the lights anyway.”

The department sent a letter to the engineering firm L.K. McLean Associates, of Brookhaven, that drew up the original plans, while giving a copy to the mayor, reading, “Each time that discussion has come up our department has opposed it.”

In the letter, Port Jefferson Fire Chief Brennan Holmes questioned the purpose of the traffic light on Liberty, saying they have reviewed the traffic collisions in that area, and over the past five years, the vehicle-pedestrian accidents responded to occurred at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and Main Street, mainly caused by visibility issues and not speeding. 

“For the fire department it presents a great difficulty getting down Main Street,” Holmes said. “It’s not solving the issue they described as the problem.”

“The light is now going to delay some of our volunteers going to the firehouses getting caught at that light.”

— Brennan Holmes

Though Holmes said he would accept the help of the village finding funding for the Opticom system, he added that a light could still cause huge backup for his fleet of vehicles, especially if multiples need to get through the intersection at once.

“The light is now going to delay some of our volunteers going to the firehouses getting caught at that light,” he said. “In addition, it will change the light and give you the green, but during our response you might have multiple vehicles … we might have total congestion there.”

Garant said the decision for the light was made not just by her, but by the DOT in trying to mitigate pedestrian accidents on that road. Stephen Canzoneri, a spokesman for the state DOT said the new light was part of the state’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, a $110 million program which started in 2016 aiming to improve pedestrian safety through infrastructure development. He added the light should be installed by 2020.

Currently, none of the stoplights in the village have the Opticom technology. Village Department of Public Works Superintendent Steve Gallagher said there are three lights owned by the village and the rest owned by New York State. The village is in charge of the lights at Myrtle and Belle Terre Road, at North Country Road and Belle Terre Road, and North Country and North Columbia Street.

The Town of Brookhaven has already equipped many of the stoplights on major town roads with the Opticom system and provided grants to assist fire departments in equipping their vehicles with the light-changing devices, except Port Jefferson Fire Department.