Proposed Capital Program Bolsters Transit and Smart Growth in Suffolk County

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone proposed a three-year, $789 million capital program last week, which offers a blueprint of priorities for the second half of his first term in office. Although the bulk of the plan focuses on waste water management needs, advocates for sustainable transportation, smart growth and transit-oriented development have much to be happy about.

In a letter accompanying the 2015-2017 program’s release, County Executive Bellone highlights the need to diversify Suffolk County’s transportation system, saying “we need to make it easier and safer for people to travel around Suffolk County, but we cannot grow our economy by simply adding more cars to the road…creating a system which allows residents to move around without having to get in their automobiles.” Some projects that will help ensure Bellone’s rhetoric becomes reality include:

Transit Oriented Development/Smart Growth: In addition to doubling the Downtown Revitalization Program to $500,000, the Program also includes $2.5 million for infrastructure improvements that support workforce housing in downtowns throughout Suffolk County. The funding is available for sidewalks, sewage treatment plants, landscaping and other projects integral to the success of affordable housing projects. The plan also helps the Ronkonkoma Hub project move forward by including $25 million for sewers to support the 1,450-unit TOD project at the Ronkonkoma LIRR station. “Jumpstart Suffolk” also received $2.5 million to fund projects that support place-making, mixed-use housing development and environmental sustainability.

Transit: Most of the County’s planned transit capital funding hinges on federal and state resources, but the plan does include nearly $7 million in funding for the purchase of Suffolk County Transit and Suffolk County Accessible Transportation buses, as well as $700,000 for acquiring and installing GPS and updated fare technology. The capital program also includes $600,000 to study a first leg of the Connect Long Island Bus Rapid Transit system along Nicolls Road.

Biking and Walking Projects: The capital program includes the cost for the construction of the Port Jefferson-Wading River Rails to Trails project and continues the $100,000 study of potential transportation alternatives along County Road 100.

Unfortunately, some projects included in the out years of the plan will do little to support the County Executive’s efforts to grow more sustainably. An expensive intersection widening and reconstruction project on County Road 3 in the Towns of Huntington and Babylon will not reduce congestion in the long term and only serve to incentivize driving and exacerbate sprawl. And despite calls for the inclusion of a “Complete Streets” implementation fund, no such program is included. This could change in the coming months as members of the Suffolk County Legislature debate and make adjustments to the program.

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