The Shinnecock Indian Nation has been awarded a $1.14 million federal transportation grant that could help transform roadways on the Southampton reservation to make them safer and more widely usable, while retaining the rural character of the land, officials said.
The money will be used for comprehensive infrastructure planning and design services, and to update the tribe’s long-range transportation plan, the U.S. Department of Transportation said last week in announcing the awards. The funding is part of the Biden administration’s $2.2 billion Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, program.
The plan, according to Lauryn Randall, transportation coordinator for the Shinnecock Department of Transportation, is to “make our roads people friendly, not just vehicle friendly.” That will include providing new, safer access for those who walk, bike or use other modes of transportation on the 800-acre reservation, while improving drainage and lighting in ways that don’t diminish the rural character of the land, Randall added.
“We want to create drainage that’s ecologically sensitive to the bay around us,” she said. “We are also concerned about storm surge from climate change.”
The work is expected to use “nature-based solutions” for drainage, and “dark-sky lighting” to improve nighttime visibility in ways that don’t diminish what Randall said is the “magnificent night sky” over Shinnecock, where there are currently only two street lights.
Planning could take up to a year, and the tribe expects to apply for additional grants to begin construction, Randall said. The tribe hasn’t received New York State help for maintaining its roadways since 2016, she said. The state Department of Transportation has filed suit against the nation, seeking to dismantle its billboards on Sunrise Highway, a legal effort tribal trustee chairman Bryan Polite said has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
State DOT spokesman Glenn Blain declined to comment on the tribal litigation.
The plan will include updated, more reflecitve signage, including some using the tribe’s native Shinnecock/Algonquin language; and more pavement markings where there currently are none. The tribe has already begun meeting with residents to develop priorities for the plan.
The transportation grant is the latest received by the Shinnecocks from Biden administration programs. Last year, the tribe received more than $9 million as part of the federal government’s effort to help communities impacted by COVID-19.
“We have roads that are in disrepair, and this will go a long way toward alleviating some of those issues,” Polite said.
Tribal vice chairman Randy King and Randall worked to secure the grant with the help of Sen. Charles Schumer’s office.
“These funds are critical to help plan and design comprehensive improvements to roadways and transportation infrastructure for the entire Shinnecock community, paving the way for safer travels and stronger infrastructure,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
The Shinnecock transportation grant is one of five awards in the federal program for New York entities, and one of scores awarded across the country. The Seneca Nation, in upstate Irving, received a $7.6 million grant to develop and construct the Southern Tier Regional Transit Hub, a transportation and bus-storage facility to be used by its Department of Transportation and Seneca Transit System.
That project is expected to extend the life of buses by providing sheltered storage for them and sheltered areas for transit users, the DOT said.