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What Will Happen On Plandome Road – And When?

Phase I: Safe Routes to Schools grant includes Manhasset Avenue to Park Avenue

It’s finally going to happen. On May 1 in the high school cafeteria North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, officials and project staff held a community wide meeting providing an update on the Plandome Road Visioning Project. Supervisor Kaiman anticipates Phase I to be bid out next month and construction to occur in August 2012.

The entire Plandome Road Visioning Project, covering Northern Boulevard to Webster Avenue, was last presented to the community and discussed in February 2010 and was estimated to cost close to $2.5 million. That amount far exceeds available funding, so the project must be phased in as funding becomes available.

Phase I, covering a very short section, from Manhasset Avenue to Park Avenue, is estimated to cost around $700,000 and is funded by a NYS Safe Routes to Schools grant, matched by the Town of North Hempstead (TNH). In Phase I, traffic calming and pedestrian safety measures are paramount: narrowing the vehicle travel lanes; creating a median and adding bulbs-outs at corners, where practical, engineered to decrease pedestrian crossing distance.

TNH Planning Commissioner Michael Levine stressed the two-year state approval process was arduous, involving not one approval but several stages of approval by NYS-DOT, with the final step, approval of bid documents, expected imminently. Aware of the community’s concern regarding the time delay, Levine stressed the two-year approval is consistent with NYS project approval timeframes experienced by most municipalities. Community concerns and stakeholder recommendations voiced in the past were examined throughout the past two-year plan approval process between TNH and NYS. While many concepts are in the final plan, it was learned some were not. During the “intersection by intersection” review at this meeting, it was clear that each corner carried its unique pros and cons.

On the positive side, Manhasset Avenue will finally be widened using the town’s right of way to modify the sidewalk adjacent to Mary Jane Davies Green to legally accommodate adding an eastbound Manhasset Avenue right turn lane onto southbound Plandome Road. Several asked why a southbound Plandome Road right turn lane onto westbound Manhasset Avenue was not included in the final plan. Project architects responded that either pedestrian or vehicular safety standards were the basis of decisions. As the financier, NYS-DOT gets the final word.

In Phase I the median will not be a raised median, but rather a flush stamped pavement, similar to the new crosswalk pavement design placed last year on Park Avenue. Safety advocates believe a raised 2-inch mountable (sloped curb) median would provide more pedestrian safety and more effectively force traffic to stay in assigned lanes, while providing emergency vehicles the ability to cross over it. However, the flush median does provide the ability to change to a raised median in the future if it is determined drivers chronically ignore the flush median. Starting with a flush median in Phase I allows future modification if needed at more modest cost. Similar flush stamped crosswalks will be placed in the Phase I area.

Unless some huge grant or financing plan becomes available, the entire Plandome Road vision will likely takes years to accomplish. Phased progress allows the community to test the success of the design elements and keep, modify or discard them in future phases. Given the multi-year nature of the entire project, rather than wait, the TNH is repaving the now badly needed town owned sections of Plandome Road from 25A to Webster Avenue which has become a pothole archipelago. The Nassau County owned 0.3 mile portion of Plandome Road, through the Incorporated Village of Plandome Heights, will also be repaved concurrently. TNH Public Works Commissioner Thomas Tiernan advised that the entire repaving work is anticipated to take only a few days, performing a 2-inch scrape up of existing asphalt, followed by immediate full repaving with work performed at lower traffic volume evening and night hours. While all road construction guarantees inconvenience, the community was assured that every TNH effort would be made to minimize traffic disruption.

Other details, outside the Phase I NYSDOT project, are still being considered - a badly needed crosswalk from the southwest to northwest corner of Memorial Place at Plandome Road and storm sewer drain cleanouts with new catch basins where needed during repaving work to alleviate the chronic “Plandome River” that runs on the east side of Plandome Road during every heavy rain. TNH will also attempt to get the LIRR on board to add one of the new design crosswalks at the northwest to southwest corners of the LIRR parking lot exit onto Plandome Road. Following the Phase I work, traffic light timing adjustments along the strip will be necessary. All traffic lights are the county’s responsibility.

Attendance was light with many voicing concern about inadequate advertising of the meeting and also perceptions that it was just another town meeting on a simple repaving project likely contributed to low turnout. However, the meeting was important to prepare the community for the upcoming summer construction.

Those who did attend grasped that the community has both pro and con views on just about every element of the plan. Some fear “traffic calming” could potentially back up more traffic along Plandome Road. Yet, for others, that traffic calming is exactly the point – to make Plandome Road a less desirable shortcut to the Port Washington Peninsula and in the long term encourage diversion of more through traffic to State Route 101/ Port Washington Boulevard, a road designed to better accommodate greater traffic volume.

Many concur the Phase I design elements are a definite improvement over current pedestrian safety conditions, provide more deterrence to chronic driver infractions such as double parking, U-turns, and speeding during non-peak hours.

Those with some involvement in the Plandome Road Visioning Project over the years, while disappointed over the long lead time, acknowledge they have learned a great deal about the underlying laws, processes and rationale governing the project. Phase I will not please everyone, but does meet the initial goals and the grant funding requirements. The project is structured to accommodate an incremental approach that maximizes future flexibility to satisfy the community as well as test the success of engineering design elements for future phases. Despite the inevitable debate on individual details the stakeholders are pleased.

It was noted that Councilwoman Anna Kaplan is planning to form a new parking task force to consolidate the separate groups formulating parking solutions to complement the Plandome Road project.

More importantly, Manhasset is finally getting the TNH attention it deserves and the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations believes this project is a very positive improvement for our downtown, and offers a resounding “thank you” to Supervisor Kaiman, Councilwoman Kaplan and TNH project staff for this project.

Richard Bentley, president, Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations.

Greater Council members contributed to the article.