Suffolk County officials have restored $4 million in funding to reconfigure a congested traffic circle in Riverside next year, a project tied to a planned economic revitalization of the community.
The Suffolk County Legislature's Capital Budget Working Group voted 5-3 Tuesday to move the funding from 2018 to 2016, at the urging of elected officials and hundreds of residents, according to Legis. Jay Schneiderman.
"I was sweating bullets," Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said after the vote. "I didn't think I was going to make it, and I lobbied very hard to restore that money."
Several busy roads meet at the traffic circle, located in the heart of Riverside near the Suffolk County Center. The project would change it from a one-lane circle to a two-lane oval to ease traffic.
Work on the circle was scheduled to begin in 2016, but East End officials said they were caught off guard when Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pushed it back to 2018 in a three-year capital plan unveiled this spring. Schneiderman said Bellone has become supportive of moving the project into 2016.
Justin Meyers, a Bellone spokesman, said the county executive "worked hard with the local community and East End officials to ensure that this project becomes a reality" and "remains committed to working with the Town of Southampton to make sure that we can advance this project in 2016."
Southampton Town officials are seeking to attract developers to Riverside, which for decades has suffered from blighted properties and high poverty and crime. Town officials selected Renaissance Downtowns LLC, a Plainview development company, last April to recommend new zoning for the hamlet in an effort called Riverside Rediscovered.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said that the traffic-circle project goes "hand-in-hand" with economic-revitalization plans.
"We obviously had great concerns when there was talk of funding being put off," she said. "I'm deeply grateful for the county executive and the legislators for understanding how important this was."
Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming appeared before county officials Tuesday to lobby for the funding.
"In order to encourage private investment, we need to be very clear about the level of commitment to revitalization," Fleming said after the vote. "What this does is renew that commitment in a very concrete and substantial way."
Siris Barrios, community liaison for Riverside Rediscovered, said 249 residents signed a petition in recent days urging county officials to reschedule the project for 2016. State Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) also urged county officials to restore the project.
"The community organized, the community made their voices heard," Barrios said. "I feel that that's where the real victory of all of this is."
Schneiderman said he believes the capital plan will pass the full legislature on June 2.