Changes have finally been made to a Port Jefferson Village intersection closely situated near the Town of Brookhaven boat launch ramp within the Port Jefferson Marina.
The New York State Department of Transportation installed new traffic signals at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and West Broadway Dec. 12 in the hopes of further alerting northbound drivers on Barnum not to proceed through the intersection, as just yards away on the other side lies the boat ramp directly into Port Jefferson Harbor. The new signal features green left and right arrows, replacing the standard green signals that used to hang above the crossing.
The change was made after a letter was sent to the department by Village Mayor Margot Garant earlier this year calling for safety improvements in the aftermath of an April 6 incident in which a man in his early 60s drove into the harbor via the same boat launch. DOT Regional Director Joseph Brown responded to Garant in a letter dated Sept. 15, saying the department had conducted an investigation which included an accident analysis, turning movement counts, pedestrian counts and field observations of the area. The letter also said the DOT would heed Garant’s request and change the traffic light.
On Oct. 30, 69-year-old Lake Grove resident William Whalen was pronounced dead at the hospital after he was pulled from a submerged vehicle in Port Jefferson Harbor. His vehicle entered the water via the troublesome intersection.
“I think it’s one of many steps we’re going to continue to take,” Garant said of the new traffic signals during a Dec. 18 board meeting. “For those who are paying attention the green arrows help, but I think clearly for those people who are having either a medical problem or maybe an ulterior motive, they might just continue to drive through. I don’t really know.”
Garant said the village’s only recourse at the intersection is to add more signage, which she said the village would pursue, as West Broadway is a New York State road, and Brookhaven owns the boat ramp and marina. A spokesperson from the town declined to comment and instead directed inquiries to the office of Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) regarding additional plans to prevent drivers from entering the harbor. Cartright’s office declined a request for comment.
Michael Schwarting and Frances Campani, of Campani and Schwarting Architects in Port Jefferson, in a joint letter to the editor and in a presentation to the village said they thought the new signals might not be enough. The architects suggested the exit from the ramp could be narrowed so that it does not perfectly align with the intersection.
“Narrowing the exit from the ramp so that it does not align with the Barnum lane running north would make it almost impossible to turn in,” the letter said. “It is pedestrian friendly, would not be very expensive and would add to the visual quality of the intersection.”
Village Deputy Mayor and Trustee Larry LaPointe said during the meeting he liked the architects’ idea.
“I thought that was a very good design,” he said. “I’d like to see the town consider that.”
In December 2005 60-year-old Setauket resident Richard Levin drove into the water on the same ramp and onlookers had to pull his unconscious body from the fully submerged car. Levin died days later as a result of the incident. The wife and executrix of the estate of Richard Levin named the town and village as co-defendants in a lawsuit in 2007. A New York State Supreme Court judge ultimately dismissed the case in 2011, finding the municipalities were not at fault.