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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Suffolk rapid bus plan: more than just a dream?

At a meeting of the Long Island Regional

At a meeting of the Long Island Regional Planning Council on Tuesday, June 16, 2016, this artist's rendering of the proposed Innovation Zone at Stony Brook University was released. The view, looking north on Nicolls Road, shows Stony Brook University Hospital on the left, and dedicated lanes for the proposed bus rapid transit line that would stretch from Stony Brook to Patchogue with a connection to the proposed Ronkonkoma Hub. Credit: Suffolk County Office of Economic Development and Planning

Could a day really come when Long Islanders wanting to jump from one east-west Long Island Rail Road line to another won't have to trek all the way back to Queens to make the transfer?

Or how about putting the train closer to the plane, at Long Island MacArthur Airport? Or maybe opting to leave the car home for public transportation that could connect Patchogue to, say, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory?

This is the stuff of dreams, which just maybe, someday could become reality, with solid funding, which always seems elusive, and fortitude enough to think beyond local borders to projects that would improve life on Long Island. It seems a long time since the region dreamed big, and even longer since local leaders concerned themselves with opportunities beyond their orbits of control.

But something akin to that happened this week when Suffolk's county executive, Steve Bellone; two Suffolk town supervisors, Angie Carpenter of Islip and Brookhaven's Edward P. Romaine; regional business leaders; and three prominent research institutions joined to support creation of a bus rapid transit plan in Suffolk.

We've seen similar efforts before -- and seen many of them flounder too. During the 1990s Lee Koppelman, then-head of Long Island's Regional Planning Board, pitched a monorail as an innovative way to get Long Islanders around Nassau's Hub.

Former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi wanted to create a swath of green space near the site. And developer and New York Islanders owner Charles Wang wanted a soaring tower as centerpiece of a new Long Island downtown there.

But the reality of what's now proposed for the Hub -- sans Islanders and with a downsized arena that will get a face-lift and an entertainment center nearby -- dwarfs the most modest of those ideas.

In Suffolk, meanwhile, developer Gerald Wolkoff envisioned a community at Heartland Town Square in Brentwood that would attract artists and young people. He said he believed that his son, rather than he, would see that vision through. That was 13 years ago, and Wolkoff's dream, while moving along in fits and starts, has yet to be realized.

Then there's the Wyandanch Rising project, which, after more than a decade of work brought new buildings, sewage lines and renovations to the downtown.

But what about now? What about that north-south connection between Long Island Rail Road stations that Bellone proposed Tuesday? That train to MacArthur? That loop of public transportation to string together downtowns with each other, and with Cold Spring Harbor and other research institutions?

OK, so right now they're dreams that will stay that way unless Bellone and his partners find the hundreds of millions of dollars in government money needed to see the projects through.

But these also are good proposals, ones that would reshape Long Island, open new ways to move workers to jobs and give the region something to work toward.

There's something else.

Suffolk municipalities -- the county, and towns of Islip and Brookhaven -- are pledging to work with each other. And with the Long Island Regional Planning Council, Long Island's Regional Economic Development Council, Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor and Brookhaven National laboratories and other groups.

Together, they want to develop a comprehensive regional plan that will make Suffolk more attractive to young workers and high-tech firms by reinvesting in downtowns and reconfiguring the region's public transportation system.

And, unlike prior efforts proposed by individuals, the group wants to work it through together -- which, this time around, just might begin pushing some of those dreams toward reality.

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