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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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LIE’s Report Card

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) made news last week with the release of a 42-page study examining the Long Island Expressway’s (LIE) conditions in western Nassau County.

I know one person who did not read the FHWA’s entire report: the Newsday editor who decided ‘Danger on the LIE’ should be the front-page headline of the paper’s Thursday, Oct. 6 print edition.

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), for instance, provided to the federal government the number, and type, of collisions between LIE exits 35 and 41 “for incidents occurring between 2001 and 2011. The primary area of focus was on incidents involving police, fire, emergency medical services, and tow truck/roadside assistance personnel,” the FHWA report stated.

Given that the federal government assessed a decade’s worth of accident data, and about 200,000 vehicles travel daily in both directions on the LIE in western Nassau, there must have been hundreds of collisions involving law enforcement and emergency response professionals within this time frame, right? The actual number: 29. One of the 29, it should be noted, resulted in the tragic death of Nassau County Police Officer Michael Califano, who died in February 2011 while conducting a routine traffic stop on the westbound LIE near Glen Cove Road (Exit 39).

The Connecticut truck driver who is alleged to have caused the crash which resulted in Officer Califano’s death has pleaded not guilty to criminally-negligent homicide, and published reports have indicated the truck driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel right before the collision. Moreover, six of the 29 LIE incidents between 2001 and 2011 resulted in incapacitating injuries, and that’s a cause for concern, too. But all the available evidence points to criminal acts, such as drunk driving, and not a poorly designed or lighted roadway, as the greatest threat to emergency responders.

My point: the LIE is remarkably safe—considering the number of vehicles it carries—but the LIE is not crime-free.

Nevertheless, the FHWA’s Road Safety Assessment (RSA) study, undertaken at the behest of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, offers some excellent recommendations. The best one calls for constructing emergency pull-off areas at select locations along the LIE.

“The pull-off areas would remove both the offending/disabled vehicle and the law enforcement/assistance vehicle from the roadside shoulder, providing suitable separation from mainline traffic,” the federal study states.

Even in this era, newspapers retain the power to inform (or mislead) large swaths of the population. So I’ll use my platform here to share some additional information you probably haven’t read or heard elsewhere.

The federal government, using the NYSDOT’s Priority Investigation Location (PIL) summaries for accidents occurring between LIE exits 35-41, found that 1,608 incidents took place within these PILs in 2009 and 2010. PILs are locations with a high occurrence of crashes, and the 1,608 figure does not include other incidents that occurred outside of the PIL boundaries.

Nonetheless, two of those 1,608 LIE incidents, or less than one-half of one percent of the total, resulted in fatalities. Meanwhile, 1,097 (68 percent) of the 1,608 PIL incidents resulted in “no injury/property damage only, which are likely low-speed collisions related to congestion,” according to the study.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: