NY considers safety upgrades on Southern State Parkway

Jesse Coburn for Newsday

November 26, 2020

Originally published in Newsday on November 26, 2020.

The state Department of Transportation is considering potential modifications to the Southern State Parkway, which local officials say is in dire need of safety upgrades given its antiquated design and history of deadly crashes.

In a letter this month to State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), state transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez wrote the department is "examining the parkway’s mainline for possible alterations and enhancements between Eagle Avenue and the Wantagh State Parkway."

The review will wrap up late next year, after which transportation officials will consider a potential capital improvement project, she wrote.

Another study, of the parkway’s on- and off-ramps, should be completed by the end of this year, Dominguez wrote. That analysis is looking at the design and signage of the ramps, how they have contributed to crashes, and possible "strategic enhancements" to prevent accidents involving motorists heading the wrong way or driving while intoxicated.

Kaminsky said in an interview he welcomed possible upgrades to the parkway.

"I am very heartened by the news that this will be studied," he said. "It would be malpractice to not give it the attention it deserves."

Transportation Department spokesman Joe Morrissey wrote in an email Wednesday it would be "premature" to share the findings of the studies or say what changes to the parkway are under consideration.

"Each study will be used as the basis for potential safety enhancements and may be used to provide groundwork for future project proposals," he wrote.

Long Island lawmakers long have called for deeper scrutiny of the dangers posed by the parkway, which has earned the nickname "blood alley" because of the many collisions and bridge strikes that have taken place along the 25-mile stretch.

The parkway was conceived by New York master builder Robert Moses in the 1920s as a route for day-tripping New York City residents to Jones Beach and other outdoor settings on Long Island.

Since then, Long Island’s population has exploded, its traffic has followed suit, and cars have become far more powerful, making the parkway’s winding course, tight ramps and low bridges a menace to motorists.

Kaminsky said one particularly perilous stretch of the highway is at Exit 18 to Eagle Avenue in West Hemsptead, where the road turns before dropping under a low overpass.

There were 43 fatal crashes on the Southern State from 2014 to 2018, Newsday has reported.

In September of this year, four people died and two more were injured when a motorist drove west onto the Southern State’s eastbound lanes, colliding head-on with another car.

In 2018, 43 people were injured on the parkway when a bus carrying high school students slammed into the Eagle Avenue overpass, despite a prohibition on commercial vehicles on the route.

A box truck crashed into the same overpass two months later.

"There's far too many deaths on these roadways," said State Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford), who co-sponsored legislation requiring the Transportation Department to conduct the ramp study. "It is inexcusable."