A new incarnation of controversial and oft-derided anti-speeding billboards that once stood along County Road 39 in Southampton may be in store as part of an effort to reduce accidents on the highly traveled roadway.
In light of a that closed the highway for nearly six hours, as well as other serious accidents across town this year, the Town Board held a discussion Friday on how to address speeding and other traffic hazards, such as distracted drivers. The prospect of new billboards was raised, as the Town Board, Police Chief William Wilson and Town Director of Transportation and Traffic Safety Tom Neely weighed the best traffic-calming and accident-reducing measures.
The old billboards — which featured a life-size police car and a cop pointing a radar gun — alerted motorists that the speed limit is 35 miles per hour and "strictly enforced."
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst suggested at Friday's meeting that the installation of new large signs be considered to raise public awareness.
The supervisor said the billboards could go up on a seasonal basis and send the message that using cellphones and texting while driving kills.
The old billboards were erected in May 2008 by Suffolk County after a widening project that added a second eastbound lane to the highway was completed. The signs were vandalized a few times; however, after someone whitewashed the police car on Thanksgiving morning and spraypainted "Please'" and "Thank You" on the billboards instead, many residents saw it as an improvement.
After a number of complaints from constituents and Southampton leaders, Suffolk County removed the signs in February 2009.
Wilson said that though traffic in Southampton has increased by 50 percent in the past 25 years, the roads have only improved 1 percent in that time to accommodate them — namely, the widening of County Road 39.
“Our road systems were never designed to handle the amount of volume we have on the roadways,” he said, noting that more cars means an increased chance of collisions.
Neely told the Town Board that Southampton has about 2,000 motor vehicle accidents annually, with 500 injuries and eight fatalities.
“I think we are generally on the same level," Neely said of 2012 so far. "Of course, July and August are two of the highest accident months”
Neely said that 18 percent of accidents in town are attributed to a driver failing to yield the right of way, 9 percent are due to speeding, and 3.4 percent involve alcohol or drugs.
The Town Board decided to draft a resolution to be voted on at its Tuesday public meeting that directs Neely to ask Suffolk County for an accident analysis of County Road 39.