Wyandanch Rising a Good Model for Regional Economic Development

A rendering of the Wyandanch Rising project in Babylon, NY.

Today, the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council released its list of “transformative” projects that it will seek funding for as part of the statewide competitive process created by Gov. Cuomo. Its 13 picks show that the Long Island council understood the opportunities that investment in smart transportation and land use decisions present for economic growth and job creation.

If Long Island and state policymakers look closely at the efforts of one particular municipality, the Town of Babylon, and its ability to leverage funding from various sources, they could find a template for sustainable economic and environmental growth on Long Island and the potential to solve that age-old question of how to keep young people on Long Island.

Babylon has long looked to develop more sustainably around the Wyandanch train station, a station at the heart of one of the most economically challenged areas on Long Island.  Almost a decade ago, the Town announced its ‘Wyandanch Rising’ initiative, which aims to create a walkable downtown that includes retail, commercial and residential development.

Babylon was one of the eight initial recipients of Tri-State’s and the One Region Funder’s Group’s Transit Centered Development Community Assistance grants in 2009 and it has subsequently been putting the necessary infrastructure pieces into place to support TOD efforts.  Last year Babylon applied for, and received, $485,000 from the New York State Department of Transportation’s Local Safe Streets and Traffic Calming Grant Program to redesign Straight Path Road.  Straight Path Road runs through downtown Wyandanch and abuts the train station, and the Town hopes to remake it into a pedestrian friendly street that will create a walkable environment necessary to support TOD, and serve as Wyandanch’s new main street.  Late last year the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation allocated close to $15 million in low-interest financing for sewer infrastructure, and the federal government provided an additional $2 million in Transportation, Community and System Preservation funding in August to establish bus pick-up and drop-off locations as well as bike storage adjacent to the train station.

These types of investments not only transform land use and transportation in the area, but also serve as a catalyst for job creation.  According to the US Conference of Mayors, sewer infrastructure generates $6.35 in private sector economic activity for every dollar invested, while a recent UMass-Amherst Political Economy Research Institute study has shown that investments in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure creates more jobs than any other road investment.  As a result, the project is expected to create 1,700 jobs in construction, retail, technical and professional services during Phase 1 alone.

The Council also selected other smart projects like the Ronkonkoma Hub (another TSTC/One Region grantee) and a Hempstead downtown redevelopment project by Renaissance Downtowns. The Governor’s Council should support initiatives like these that will put Long Island on a more sustainable economic and environmental path.

Image: Town of Babylon.

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