When Tropical Storm Isaias roared across Long Island on Aug. 4 with 70-mph wind gusts, it brought down more than a thousand trees in Nassau County, cutting off electricity to large areas, including sections of major thoroughfares like Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road, among many others. That meant no power for stoplights, which tied up traffic and caused potentially hazardous conditions.
Every intersection without power was an accident waiting to happen, with many motorists barreling along, seemingly oblivious to the potential dangers all around. Too many of Nassau’s intersections are hazardous enough under optimal conditions — on a clear day with the lights working. Without lights, anything can happen.
That’s why villages, towns, the county and the state must work together to develop better plans to ensure motorists’ safety in major intersections after a storm like Isaias. During the recent tempest, county police officers were at some intersections minding traffic flow, but too many others were without any law enforcement personnel. We can only surmise why — budget matters, perhaps, in the face of a historic fiscal crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic that is expected to lead to historic deficits for government at all levels.
After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, we saw a greater number of police officers directing traffic at intersections that were without power. We’d like to see them out in force during the next storm of this magnitude.
But police can’t be everywhere, and that’s why we must consider alternatives. For example, could we not install solar-power backups at major intersections that would provide electricity to the lights until the main power lines could be re-energized? Could we not put up temporary stop signs at those intersections? Could we not install temporary orange barriers with flashing lights to warn motorists approaching intersections without power?
All of these options require careful study, but now is the time to undertake such an effort — before the next Big One.