JULIE LANE PHOTO | On her first trip back to Shelter Island after many years, Ruth Lapin took it upon herself to direct traffic Thursday afternoon as vehicles legally entered the ferry line from Wiggins Street and illegally cut off vehicles by trying to enter the line from Third Street. Ms. Lapin made several drivers turn around and go to Wiggins Street.
Drivers beware. There’s no likely relief in sight for those long lines that frequently form in Greenport to access North Ferry.
There’s not much up ahead to solve the problem except finger pointing from nearly everyone with a stake in the issue.
Currently, there’s often a tangle of traffic with drivers accessing the ferry legally from Wiggins Street or illegally from Third Street and other traffic bound for either the East End Seaport Museum, the Long Island Rail Road Museum, the Long Island Rail Road, the Hampton Jitney or the Rail Road dock used by area fishermen.
And when South Fork traffic is disrupted, ferry traffic in Greenport becomes even worse.
A plan to create a viable transportation hub has been on the table for several years, but has no chance of being implemented unless the Long Island Rail Road can provide more extensive and reliable service to and from Greenport, according to Village Mayor David Nyce. Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Sal Arena said he isn’t even aware of such a plan.
There’s finger pointing by two Greenport Village Board members — Trustees Mary Bess Phillips and George Hubbard — who think North Ferry officials and Southold Police are failing to meet their responsibilities in controlling traffic, resulting in several occurrences this summer of traffic choked village streets. And there are conflicting explanations from Mayor Nyce, North Ferry General Manager Bridg Hunt and Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley about why there’s no easy answer to relieving congestion at the southern end of Third Street where ferries load and unload.
Mayor Nyce confirmed that the Village Board and North Ferry several years ago worked out an alternative route to relieve some of the congestion, a plan that uses Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Long Island Rail Road property. The plan calls for traffic to head south down Sixth Street in the village, turn left onto Wiggins Street and then turn right onto Fourth Street, finally turning left to access the ferry docks from behind the East End Seaport Museum. That road behind the museum would have to be paved to accommodate ferry traffic, Mr. Nyce said. But first, the MTA would have to agree to its use for that purpose, and then it would become a matter of who would pay the costs of paving, new signage and other possible expenses, Mayor Nyce said. Because the plan has been tabled for so long, there is no estimate of what it might cost, the mayor said. The village doesn’t have the funds to bear the cost and there’s not a lot of grant money for such projects, he added.
Since that plan was proposed, there have been a series of cuts to Long Island Rail Road service to Greenport, including a threat to end all service between the village and Ronkonkoma. That would mean an end to any agreement needed with the MTA to create a transit hub, Mr. Nyce said.
In recent weeks, the MTA has found money to extend its weekend service to Greenport not just for this summer, but through November, but Mr. Arena, the MTA spokesman, said he couldn’t comment if that would open the door to negotiations to create a transit hub. If more frequent service becomes long term, Mr. Nyce said he would reopen talks about creating a transportation hub and solidify the plans that have been pending.
There has been an increase in ferry traffic this summer, some generated by a series of accidents on Route 39 in Southampton that resulted in more traffic winding its way across Shelter Island using both South Ferry and North Ferry.
Both services have responded quickly, putting on more boats and using staff to help control traffic flow. But last Wednesday, there was no indication there would be a delay when trailers carrying sunfish for a regatta in the Hamptons and horses bound to the Hamptons Classic jammed the Greenport access to the ferry. There also was no indication of long delays that occurred at North Ferry Thursday evening. The holdup was only for about an hour Wednesday morning, according to Mr. Hunt.
What upsets many motorists are drivers trying to join the ferry line on the Greenport side not from Wiggins Street, but illegally from Third Street. Some of that results from drivers whose GPS systems direct them incorrectly to Third Street, Chief Flatley said. Others simply ignore the signs. At one point last Wednesday, there were as many as 20 cars lined up on Third Street that could have spilled over into Front Street. The same was true on Thursday afternoon.
The congestion at the southern end of Third Street has riled Ms. Phillips. He questioned at the July Village Board work session what agreements exist between the village and the various users of that area. North Ferry should be contributing money to help deal with increased ferry activity, the trustee said. It’s not fair to Greenport and Southold taxpayers to be burdened with all the traffic control costs, she said.
“And Southold Police need to give Greenport a little more service than they are,” Ms. Phillips said, indicating she would repeat her concerns at the next Village Board meeting.
“They don’t want to pay somebody,” Mr. Hubbard said about North Ferry hiring a traffic control officer. He lives in the village, serves as a trustee, but maintains Hubbard’s Repair Shop on Shelter Island, making a daily trip to open his business by 8 a.m.
The village and Southold Town are being asked to bear the costs “for a private company that’s using public roads,” Mr. Hubbard said. “They’re supposed to be good neighbors and sometimes they’re not,” he said about North Ferry.
Chief Flatley disagreed, saying North Ferry does its best to be a good neighbor, sending personnel out to try to control the lines. He also defended a general lack of ticketing of vehicles parked on the south side of Wiggins Street where parking is banned between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Parking is tight in the village and residents don’t feel they should have to give up their on-street parking, he said.
Mr. Hunt said there are times when his personnel require motorists trying to cut the line by entering from Third Street to turn around and go west on Front Street, then south on Sixth Street to Wiggins.
“We’re really are trying to help the neighborhood,” Mr. Hunt said.