Evacuation route to be overhauled

$11 million Atlantic Beach road project set to begin in 2019

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An estimated $11 million plan to boost the safety of motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians and improve drainage along a vital evacuation route in Atlantic Beach and East Atlantic Beach is taking shape thanks to a partnership among the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, the Nassau County Department of Public Works and the Empire State Development Corporation.

Work is anticipated to begin in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, the details of the plan and its precise cost are still being finalized, according to Sean Sallie, the DPW’s planning division supervisor, who said he hoped the bidding process would be completed by January 2019.

The project would stretch east from the south end of the Atlantic Beach Bridge, at Park Street, through East Atlantic Beach, where Park becomes Beech Street, to the Long Beach border, at Beech Street and Nevada Avenue.

Roughly $6 million would come from the federally funded Community Reconstruction Program, while the county’s portion would be $4 million and the Empire State Development would contribute $1 million. The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery coordinates the continuing recovery effort from Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storms Irene and Lee. The Empire State Development Corporation is the state’s public-benefit corporation.

Sallie said that the project would take a minimum of a year, because construction must be scheduled around the winter weather and the influx of beachgoers in the summer.

“We have the preliminary design ideas,” he said at an open house community meeting in Atlantic Beach’s Village Hall on Oct. 3, “and we want to share them with you, and then we’ll come back again in the spring when we have the final plan.”

Atlantic Beach and East Atlantic Beach residents had the chance to voice their concerns and offer suggestions at the meeting. The plan is based on drainage and traffic studies, as well as community input from a 2013 meeting of residents and DPW officials. Sallie said with the latest feedback factored in, a final plan should be ready next spring.

In addition to widening and repaving Park and Beech Street and installing storm grates, the plan calls for reducing the street from four lanes to two in the hope of cutting down on speeding, and creating a bicycle lane on the south side of the roadway. A landscaped median would separate the road from the bike lane. Sallie said that the lane reduction would likely add only a minute or two to the travel time from the bridge to Long Beach.

Residents have long complained about speeding drivers on Beech Street, especially during the summer. Michael Ward, of East Atlantic Beach, said he believed the project, and particularly the lane reduction, was a great idea. “I’m all for slowing it down,” he said. “If there’s a little bit more traffic, I’m OK with that.”

Most of the residents said they favored the changes, though they had some reservations. Gaye Jacobs, who has lived in Atlantic Beach for 15 years, said she was concerned about the construction work digging up her sprinkler system when the road is widened, but she conceded that the project was necessary.

“Change is good,” she said. “Park Street needs to be fixed. It’s terrible.”

Tony Basso, another Atlantic Beach resident, agreed. “A lot of people are going to be very upset by a two-lane street, but I think it’s great,” he said. “Everyone will take it a little easier.”

Lifelong resident Richard Libbey suggested another change to help reduce speeding. “If they really want to stop speeding, time the lights,” he said. “The sensors don’t do anything, and people will race to try to get through.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, Assemblywoman Melissa Miller and County Legislator Denise Ford attended the meeting, and voiced their support for the project. All three recalled times when they had been frightened by speeding cars while they were walking, jogging or biking along Beech Street.

Miller did take issue with reducing the number of lanes, saying that it could create more traffic and that the DPW should consider alternatives. “Now that I look at [the plan],” she said, “I could no longer in good conscious think that the one lane is a good idea.”

Alan Kaye, a former president of the Atlantic Beach Civic Organization, noted that the plan does not include a turning lane for one of the three entrances to Atlantic Beach Estates, where he lives. “They need our input because we live here,” he said. “We know and we feel the pulse of the area and the neighborhood.”

Have an opinion about the proposed plan or traffic on the barrier island? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.