Traffic congestion and safety near the Eagle Avenue exit of the Southern State Parkway, in West Hempstead, has been a concern of residents for years. According to Rosalie Norton, an executive board member of the West Hempstead Community Support Association, the accidents have gotten worse in recent years.
“My husband and I have used the Southern State for years, but as the population grew, that area has progressively become more dangerous,” said Norton, who has lived in West Hempstead for more than 50 years. “Any time you hear of a severe accident, it’s near exits 18 and 17.”
In the most notable accident in recent years, an eastbound commercial charter bus slammed into the Eagle Avenue overpass at Exit 18 in April 2018. Six people were seriously hurt, and were rushed to area hospitals, and three dozen suffered minor injuries. At a height of just 7 feet 7 seven inches, the Eagle Avenue bridge has one of the lowest clearances of any structure on a Long Island parkway, and is struck by oversized trucks an average of three times a year, according to the state Department of Transportation, as reported by the Herald in 2011.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky addressed the issue at a public DOT hearing in Albany last month. One of the features of that section of the Southern State that make it particularly dangerous, Kaminsky said, is that eastbound drivers come over a steep incline, which makes it difficult to see traffic ahead of them. He urged the DOT to address Exit 18 in its next capital plan.
“There have been real treacherous accidents there, and it’s also really backed up with traffic,” Kaminsky said. “So at least a study to figure out what the options are at that particular area, I think, would be worthwhile. But it should be one of the main focuses of the DOT going forward.”
The parkway has remained largely unchanged since it opened in 1927. The configuration of exit and entrance ramps, and their corresponding signage, have made the road one of the deadliest highways on Long Island. A 2016 study by the DOT found that in one five-year span, over 10,500 accidents occurred on the Southern State, over 3,000 of which involved injury, and 32 were fatal.
“The signage on the side of the highway doesn’t seem to help,” Norton said, “but if they added signs on the road itself, maybe that would work.”
DOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said she understood the concerns about the parkway, and agreed that changes are sorely needed. “I’m happy to do some additional work on them [to] make sure that we’ve considered all the alternatives and to see how we can best address them,” she said.
Dominguez noted the state’s $130 million construction project on State Route 878, commonly known as the Nassau Expressway, in the Five Towns as a prime example of the kind of work that could be done on the Southern State. The project, which began in October 2018, included raising the road three to four feet to reduce flooding, and the installation of a new multi-use pedestrian path, a state-of-the-art drainage system and synced traffic signals as well as additional turning lanes. After a five-car crash in the work area in April 2018 resulted in two deaths, plastic Jersey barriers, used to separate traffic lanes, were also installed.
“That project, in particular, is very demonstrative of the level of good work that can be done that has huge benefits,” Dominguez said. “Not just for purposes of traffic and moving people, but the resilience factor alone, that project hits on the overall goals that we’re trying to achieve in improving our safety and infrastructure.”
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