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Herricks Road: Crunch Zone

Traffic divider missing a safety feature?

Mineola resident George Sommer can never forget the morning in 1982, when he awoke to learn that nine teenagers had been killed when a van in which they were riding was struck by an LIRR train at the now defunct Herricks Road train crossing, after the van’s driver went around lowered gates. 

Sommer’s son was supposed to be with them in the van, but Sommer kept him home to do school work.

Although the crossing is now raised and is no longer a danger to errant drivers, Sommer, who was a highway engineer, believes one fatal flaw remains: the lack of a “crash cushion” at the south end of the traffic divider.

The area, which had once been named the most dangerous in the country by the National Transportation Safety Board, prompted the Long Island Rail Road to raise the track in 1994. The $25 million project was completed in 1999. An NTSB report also said that the van’s driver had “driven around a properly functioning lowered gate with flashing lights onto the crossing.”

For more than a decade prior, the crossing was “popular” for its traffic jams and impatient drivers.

“I wanted [the schoolwork] done and if he got it done during the week, he’d have Friday off,” Sommer said. “He didn’t and so I kept him home. He didn’t give me a hard time. The following morning I woke up and heard the commotion.”

Sommer recognized some movement, but feels much is left to be done.

“They removed all the shredded guardrails, the metal guardrails on either side of the barrier,” he said. “All the crumbled stuff underneath and the three or four orange barrels were previously positioned.”

Crash cushions serve as a velocity dampener to crashing cars. According to Sommer, they absorb the shockwaves and prevent cars from converging on the other side of the road.

“I see a risk there that was never taken care of,” he said. “I know from experience where we put these crash cushions to eliminate any dangerous action when a car goes errant or someone gets killed or maimed.”

Herricks Road is a Nassau County road and is subject to county jurisdiction. According to spokesman Michael Martino, when the road markings at the underpass are complete within the next week, crash attenuators will be put in place. He confirmed that county road maintenance crews would monitor the condition of the attenuators on a regular basis.