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Turning Toward Safety And Convenience

Hope for imminent improvement at Manhasset Ave., Plandome Rd.

The familiar gridlock at the intersection of Manhasset Avenue and Plandome Road may be fixed in time for the upcoming school year--if the Town of North Hempstead can create a dedicated right turn lane for drivers before students return to their classrooms and the infamous crossing.

Town spokesman Ryan Mulholland said this project took six years of planning, and with delivery of an engineer’s report expected any day now, officials hope to begin its final phase: construction.

The undertaking involves relocating power lines and removing an unused police booth on the southwest side of the intersection, Mulholland said, in order to widen Manhasset Avenue enough to fit two lanes of traffic. The new addition would be designated for drivers making right turns onto southbound Plandome Road.

These changes were initially discussed as part of the Plandome Road Visioning Project, according to Mulholland. This comprehensive plan detailed improvements to the thoroughfare from Northern Boulevard to Colonial Parkway. Due to financial constraints, the town opted to proceed with this singular portion for the time being.

The town initially received a $410,680 Safe Route to Schools grant in January 2009, but would not be able to use the funds without reaching a specific minimum sum for the overall project. “We would have had to spend $1.2 million to get our $400,000 back,” Mulholland said, “so it made sense, financially, for the town to go with the smaller project.”

The town ordered the engineer’s report for the reconfigured project in late July, according to Mulholland.

Rich Bentley, a member of the original Visioning Project committee, said change could not come fast enough for commuters and pedestrians alike.

“Traffic backs up all the way to Manhasset High School on every school day of the year,” said Bentley, who also serves as president of the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations.

“When traffic backs up, pedestrians end up walking in between backed-up cars, and you’ve got an increased chance of driver mishaps in such traffic snarls. You’re causing road rage.”

Bentley said the additional traffic lane would ideally accommodate both drivers making right turns and those going straight across Plandome Road--as he believes drivers waiting to turn left onto Plandome Road cause the most congestion--but Mulholland said the town plans for eastbound traffic to share the left-hand lane.

Manhasset Public Schools Superintendent Charles Cardillo said the congestion, largely created by approximately 1,600 students commuting to and from school, is severe and exacerbated by commuters accessing the nearby Long Island Railroad station.

“It’s a significant issue not just for the Manhasset schools, it’s really for the community as a whole,” he said.

Sue Auriemma, a Manhasset resident with children enrolled in the school system, became involved with this project at its onset and expects to receive positive feedback from the community.

“Residents were aware that this was a plan that had been approved and awaiting Safe [Routes to Schools] funding, “ she said. “So I think people are pretty anxious and don’t have an understanding as to why the funding hasn’t come through and why the work hasn’t been done.”

Although the town has yet to use the Safe Routes to Schools grant, it did fund the engineer’s report through a $100,000 grant awarded by former Senator Craig M. Johnson (D-Nassau), according to Mulholland. The actual report cost $96,412.