What to Do About Suffolk County’s New York Route 347

The tortuous history of New York Route 347 in Suffolk County and its troubles with the traffic impacts of low density strip mall development has again come to the public fore due to some recent motor vehicle accidents.

On July 30, 2008, a Lake Grove woman, Effatolsadat Ghozati, 66, was struck by car and killed while crossing westbound Route 347 near Hallock Road in Stony Brook, New York, on foot at around 10:25 P.M. On August 1, 2008, the front of a 2003 Ford van, going west on State Route 347, smashed into the side of a passenger bus that was heading east on 347 and was attempting to reach a driveway on the north side of the Smithtown bypass. 9 people, all occupants of the van, were injured, and a tenth passenger died after several days in the hospital.

The passenger who died, Marie Labady, sustained brain injuries and a broken right arm in the crash. The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is proposing a nearly $400 million project to improve the safety and mobility along a 15 mile (24 km) section of NY Route 347 (Nesconset Highway) between the Northern State Parkway and NY Route 25A. The plan has been in the works for over 10 years. The current plan includes adding a lane in each direction for the entire stretch of the project, as well as increasing turn radii at several intersections along the affected corridor.

More specific features of the plan include two new bridges at major choke points: NY Route 25 over NY Route 347; NY Route 347 over Nicolls Road (Suffolk County Road 97), construction of 10 foot wide shoulders adjacent to the right lane, construction of four foot wide inner shoulders adjacent to the left lane, facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists and the physically challenged, including crosswalks, signalization and handicapped ramps, new and/or enhanced traffic signals, improved signal coordination and traffic monitoring, additional turning lanes and longer turn storage lanes and expanded INFORM system to better manage traffic.

The stated purposes of the plan include to construct a safer roadway for all modes of travel by reducing the future number of crashes and providing safe pedestrian and bicycle facilities, improve traffic flow along NY Route 347 by relieving congestion and eliminating travel choke points, enhance the visual quality of the roadway, reduce current and future community and environmental impacts such as cut-throughs on local roads, and to eliminate conflicting traffic movements by closing median openings and adding turn lanes.

But the latest pedestrian accident has prompted Nick Klissas, chairman of the 20-member Committee for a New 347, to write a letter to the editor in Newsday published on August 5, 2008. Mr. Klissas criticizes the plan to expand the highway to the equivalent of 10 lanes as making it impossible for pedestrians to safely cross the road under any circumstances.

He writes, Only by separating pedestrians from traffic, replacing traffic lights with underpasses and using state-of-the-art design will this road ever be made safe for motorists and pedestrians.

Other critics point out that data in the Final Environmental Impact Statement shows that increased traffic on a widened Route 347 would quickly re-congest the road. Groups like the Tri-State, the Long Island Progressive Coalition, Vision Long Island, and the Neighborhood Network have suggested that if adding an additional lane is deemed necessary, the corridor should be transformed into a boulevard with design elements such as a separated local traffic lane, landscaped medians, wide sidewalks, street trees and a protected bike lane.

The Committee for a New 347 has advocated turning Route 347 into a limited-access greenway. Route 347 is not the only dangerous road on Long Island. Data compiled by the NYSDOT showed that the Southern State Parkway is the most dangerous state road on Long Island and Hempstead Turnpike has the highest concentration of crash-prone locations. The Southern State had five of Long Islands 10 worst-rated spots when compared with similar state roads throughout New York. Hempstead Turnpike had 12 segments with above-average accident rates west of the Meadowbrook Parkway.

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