Nassau-Suffolk County Road History


Until the early 1970's, Nassau County, like neighboring Suffolk County, maintained a unique system of numbered roads. As Ralph Herman displays in the CR 25 sign on the left, county road signs were orange with blue typeface, matching the colors of Nassau County. Over the years, Nassau County has received national awards for maintaining the best county route system in the nation.

According to Ralph Herman, the New York State Department of Transportation, which mirrors guidelines established by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), adopted changes mandated by the 1973 edition of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). For county routes, this meant blue-pentagon signs with gold typeface. (These new MUTCD-standard signs were adopted by Suffolk County in 1975.)

The existing county route markers in Nassau did not meet the new MUTCD guidelines. They were smaller than standard-size route markers and often had directional arrows on the shields themselves. Separate directional and arrow shields were not used.

In order to bring county markers in compliance with the new state and federal standards, the Nassau County Department of Public Works (NCDPW) went to the County Legislature for millions of dollars for new route markers. Furthermore, according to John Faughnan of the Nassau County Department of Highways and Engineering, the county was about to embark on a re-numbering of the entire route system. Denied funding by the Nassau County Legislature, the NCDPW, because it had to remain in compliance with the new MUTCD guidelines, removed all existing county route signing by the mid-1970's. (According to a posting by Steve Sassi in Deja News, one old Nassau County marker remained posted in Port Washington until 1990.)

THE ROUTE NUMBERING SCHEME... Longer routings, sometimes over several different roads, tended to have one-digit and two-digit route numbers. Among the longest was CR 1, which went along 18 different roads from Centre Island to Point Lookout. Shorter routings, which were as short as one block long, tended to be in the "100 series." Many of these "100 series" routes tended to be clustered in succession in heavily settled areas such as Great Neck, Glen Cove, Garden City, Mineola, Hempstead and Freeport.

The compilation of the Nassau County route listing, which was based on the 1959 Nassau County Master Plan, required a trip to the archives at the Nassau County Department of Public Works in Garden City.

THE SUFFOLK COUNTY ROUTE SYSTEM: The route numbering system used on Suffolk County roads was introduced during the early 1950's. Prior to the post-war era, many roads in Suffolk County had gravel and even dirt surfaces. With the suburban development in neighboring Nassau County during that decade, officials in Suffolk County saw the need to prepare roads for the coming population explosion. A program of highway improvement and expansion thus began.

In 1960, the population of Suffolk County was about 250,000. By the end of the decade, this figure would top one million. To meet this demand, the 1960's saw the proposal and construction of a number of four-lane divided highways, such as Nicolls Road (CR 97), Patchogue-Mount Sinai Road (CR 83 extension), and Port Jefferson-Westhampton Road (CR 111).

Construction of new highways progressed at a feverish pace in the late 1960's and early 1970's. However, by the mid-1970's, environmental and fiscal concerns doomed the construction of new highways, such as CR 8, CR 103 and much of CR 111.

With the population of Suffolk County stabilizing at 1.4 million during the 1980's and 1990's, the focus shifted toward safety improvements to existing roads. For example, CR 29 featured improvements to the existing Ronkonkoma and Smithtown Avenues, as well as a new bridge over the LIRR Ronkonkoma branch (where high-speed electric service had recently begun). Reconstruction was completed in late 1989.

The original Suffolk County route markers, such as the CR 4 sign that I provided, had the same color scheme as current signs, but were square and came in two different sizes (large and small). A few of these pre-1975 signs can still be found on Suffolk roads.

The new MUTCD-standard county road signs, such as the CR 46 sign provided by Ralph Herman, first appeared around 1975 and are used prominently today. Still, many people in Suffolk County do not know the numerical designations given to certain routes. When new NYSDOT directional signs were posted along expressways and parkways in the late 1980's and early 1990's, confusion arose among motorists. Since then, the practice has been to post both the numerical route designation and the name of the road together on directional signs.



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