More signs, please! State seeks to ease bridge project's pain

To combat “road-rage gridlock” at the Route 35 bridge project, the state has agreed to several steps, starting with a suspension of alternating one-way traffic Friday afternoon, May 26, at the start of the long Memorial Day weekend.

The state’s Department of Transportation will also put out more signs, alerting travelers of one-way traffic — far enough ahead to facilitate detouring. And state officials will review work hours with the contractor.

“It’s very busy through there. There’s a lot of businesses on 35. The traffic levels are probably as high as 25,000 vehicles a day — that’s pretty busy,” said John S. Dunham, a district engineer with the DOT.

The planned Route 7 bridge project — slated for weekend work only, to avoid conflicts with the Route 35 project — is tentatively scheduled to start Friday, June 9.

“We have five planned weekends between now and in the fall, depending on how much work he gets done,” Dunham said. “It would start Friday evening and go through Monday morning until 6 a.m. We’ll do extensive coordination, to be sure.”

First Selectman Rudy Marconi met with state officials Monday, May 22, over the Route 35 bridge work.

“Last Friday, at the intersection of Copps Hill, 35 and Farmingville, it was a road-rage gridlock,” Marconi said. “And I’ve asked to have more traffic control agents, as well as variable messaging signs, advising people to take alternate routes due to alternating one-way traffic.

“There’s no signage,” Marconi said. “When you’re heading south into town on Route 35, there’s no signage until you get to approximately Tanton Hill, and I’ve asked for signage earlier. I’ve asked for signage to be located on Route 7, advising motorists to seek alternate routes into town, due to alternating traffic on Route 35.”

For northbound traffic, signs on Route 35/33 would likely be before Branchville Road, Route 102.

“If we had better signage giving advance warning, people will seek alternate routes,” Marconi said.

Alternate ways

The first selectman admitted there’ll be a downside, with so many drivers finding alternate routes with GPS software.

“I know it will have an impact on other local roads, when people seek alternate ways,” Marconi said.

Dunham, the state engineer, addressed Route 35’s problems.

“I met with the town officials to discuss ways to improve traffic flow through the area during the bridge construction project,” Dunham said in an email Monday. “Three actions came out of the meeting:               

  • “1. The department will review the roads leading up to the bridge from both directions and place additional signage/variable message boards in an attempt to better notify the traveling public of the work ahead and to advise them to seek alternate routes when possible.
  • “2. We discussed trying to get a better handle on when the traveling public can expect alternating one-way traffic. Due to the variable nature of the contractor’s work this would be a difficult task. The contractor is currently making every effort possible to limit the amount of alternating one-way traffic through the construction zone. The department agreed to go back to the contractor and discuss with the contractor the alternating one-way traffic as long as it wouldn’t have an impact on the project progress.
  • “3. We are also looking into limiting any alternating one-way traffic prior to the Memorial Day holiday.”

The exception

Dunham said limiting work on the Friday before Memorial Day was an exception to the standard practice on smaller highways.

“Generally, what we have in our construction contracts, where there’s work on limited-access highways, we tell contractors no work the day before or day after major holiday weekends.”

But that’s not the case with Route 35.

“It’s not on a limited-access highway, so we don’t normally do that — the limited-access highways are where the really high traffic volumes are,” Dunham said.

“In spite of that, we will be telling our contractor not to do alternating one-way traffic the Friday afternoon before the holiday, from noontime on.

Dunham wasn’t so sure about changing the hours that alternating one-way traffic is allowed.

“What the town had asked for was to reduce the work windows for alternating one-way traffic, which the contract allows from 9 to 3,” he said.

“The town was looking to reduce it to 10 to 2, or 9:30 to 3:30.

“I’m having my staff track, for the next two weeks, when they’re doing it, how often, the times. Then we can analyze it, sit down, and talk to the contractor.”

Similarly, Dunham is not sure about Marconi’s request to add more traffic control people.

“I did talk to the staff about that, and we’re looking into it,” he said.

End date

The Route 35 project is slated to be done by the end of the year.

“Right now, projecting a completion date of around Dec. 1,” Dunham said.

“There will be cleanup work in the spring, but generally open to traffic on the new bridge in the final alignment by Dec. 1 — that’s our goal right now.”