Bellone advocates for high-speed bus

(L-R) Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State

(L-R) Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Mark J. Epstein, Esq. chair of the LIRR Commuter's Council and Jonathan Keyes, director of the Office of Downtown Revitalization, Planning and Development, pose at a local bus stop in front of the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge. (Oct. 5, 2012) (Credit: Heather Walsh)

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Friday pushed his plan for high-speed bus service as a viable way of getting people around the county.

At a Hauppauge symposium hosted by the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Bellone promoted his Connect Long Island plan, which entails creating bus rapid transit systems along Suffolk's major north-south corridors, including Route 110, Nicolls Road and Sagtikos Parkway.

The systems use dedicated bus lanes, methods of collecting fares before riders board buses to shorten time at stops, and technology that allows buses to control traffic lights.

Bellone said such a system could be critical to building an "innovation economy," where people can use buses to get to and from designations such as Brookhaven National Laboratories, Stony Brook University and burgeoning commercial and residential developments in Wyandanch and East Farmingdale.

A bus rapid transit system along Route 110 is a key element of a plan to build a transit hub near Republic Airport in East Farmingdale that would be anchored by a new LIRR station. Creating that station is part of the railroad's ongoing project to build a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma.

Town of Babylon Deputy Supervisor Antonio Martinez said officials were "on the verge of making the first BRT [bus rapid transit] happen," with the preferred transit alternative for the Route 110 corridor from Amityville to Huntington selected by year's end.

Babylon and Huntington would then apply for federal funding for such a system, said Jonathan Keyes, Babylon director of downtown revitalization. In a statement, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has convened a task force to advance the Republic Station effort, said he will "strongly support" such an application.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council, which co-sponsored the symposium, said rapid bus service could help with "the first mile problem and the last mile problem" for Long Island train riders -- providing a transit option for the first and last legs of their daily commutes.

"A fast, convenient way to get to and from railroad stations is crucial for commuters," Epstein said, adding that parking lots at train stations are expensive and difficult to build.

Bellone called it "nonsense" that Suffolk residents would not choose a bus over a car. "Why do they always drive? . . . Well, because the infrastructure is such that you can't easily get around the Island without a vehicle. That's a fact," he said. "We are not going to be able to grow this economy fully on a model that simply adds cars to the roadways. It's just not possible."

Bellone laid out his vision for the future of bus service on Long Island shortly after revealing plans for a major overhaul of Suffolk's transit bus system, which has nearly doubled in costs to the county since 2005 while not significantly improving services.

Bellone has said he is considering following Nassau's model of having a private transportation firm fully manage and operate its bus system.

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