West Shore Road's reopening a good sign

Crews open West Shore Road in Mill Neck

Crews open West Shore Road in Mill Neck after being rebuilt from Superstorm Sandy. (June 9, 2013) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

The reopening of West Shore Road in Mill Neck shows that, for all its serious fiscal problems, Nassau County can accomplish something big.

Why is one North Shore road, which still has two phases to go for full restoration, worthy of praise now?

For one, the repair of 1,980 feet of a 1.9-mile road likely is the first of what hopefully will be many successful post-Sandy restorations in communities across the region.

It shows that Nassau, and, by extension, Long Island, can get things done -- and get the road reopened ahead of the schedule that County Executive Edward Mangano had set.

The route's restoration also marks another chapter in the fascinating life of a historically significant roadway and the scrappy community that hugs it.

There was a time when master builder Robert Moses himself coveted West Shore Road, which, under one of his many grand plans, was supposed to help funnel traffic to and from a bridge to be built between Long Island and Westchester County.

Early on, in the late 1950s, it appeared Moses had support. But opposition decades later killed the project.

The neighborhood, where early deeds extended land ownership all the way down to the waterfront, made sure the roadway never would be threatened in the same way again.

The property owners, according to a local history, gave their waterfront property to the federal government, which later would designate it a protected wetland.

The move kept the property out of the hands of the state and, by extension, thwarted Moses from attempting to exercise eminent domain.

Then, as now, West Neck was not a road for speed.

It overlooks waterways frequented by a variety of fish and fowl.

The roadway, which was built in 1938, needed restoration decades before Sandy superstormed through, dating back at least to the 1980s. By 1993, according to National Bridge Inventory data, officials were recommending that the artery be replaced.

By the 21st century, Mangano's administration was beginning to pay attention. But, still, the renovation stalled in the legislature.

Sandy changed everything last October by knocking a portion of the tumbledown seawall to bits, closing the roadway and forcing the drivers -- measured at 12,000 annual average daily trips -- to add 15 minutes to their trips with detours through Mill Neck and Lattingtown.

To be sure, there's still much to be done. The complete restoration is expected to cost $35 million, a portion of which Nassau hopes to get from the federal government and other sources.

The roadway remains a mess during rainstorms, and raised metal plates -- which would be removed as roadway repairs extend north and south of the refurbished middle portion -- make it imperative that drivers watch the road rather than the scenery.

The county intends to complete what it started. And that includes balancing the concerns of multiple and sometimes conflicting constituencies, including the walkers and bicycle riders who frequent the overpass.

Some neighbors believe the road should be private. But business owners in Bayville, whose revenue dwindled because customers couldn't easily make their way there, are gleeful.

All of which makes the swift reopening of West Shore Road post-Sandy something unexpected, something new.

Just the kind of kick Long Island needs.