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Long IslandSuffolk

Bellone pitches $300M million expanded plan to tie transit, downtowns and research centers

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. Photo Credit: Suffolk County Office of Economic Development and Planning

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Tuesday unveiled an expanded $300 million rapid bus transit plan for new rail and airport terminals he said would more closely tie transit, downtowns and major research centers and create jobs for young workers.

Bellone said the aim is to capitalize on the county's research institutions, a highly educated population and natural attractions such as beaches, parklands and farms to attract innovative businesses and high-caliber employees.

"Long Island is losing its young at a rate faster than anybody," Bellone said. "We want to build a network of vibrant downtowns connected by a transit system that connects young people to all the places they want to be without getting in a car."

Bellone, seeking to forge a regional lobbying force, announced the initiative at a Long Island Regional Planning Council meeting at Stony Brook University. Attendees included 100 academic, business and civic leaders, including Republican town Supervisors Edward P. Romaine of Brookhaven and Angie Carpenter of Islip.

The initiative is an outgrowth of Bellone's original $78 million "Connect Long Island" proposal, which called for a rapid bus system, running on dedicated lanes with expedited signaling, along Nicolls Road, the Sagtikos Parkway and Route 110.

Bellone yesterday said he expects to seek local, state and federal funding. But he wasn't specific about how much he wants from each source, and some local officials and experts noted that securing the money could be difficult.

Bellone called for the creation of a "Long Island Innovation Zone" along Nicolls Road where the county already has planned its first rapid bus transit route, from Stony Brook University to Montauk Highway near downtown Patchogue.

A feasibility study for Bellone's original rapid bus plan alone calls for a $35 million rapid bus transit route on the existing right of way. The expanded plan now calls for spending $75 million on new dedicated bus lanes and $25 million for a bike and hiking lane.

The expanded plan would also create a $125 million airport terminal on the north side of Long Island-MacArthur Airport, adjoining the proposed Ronkonkoma Hub, to provide direct connection between the LIRR and the airport. Bellone aides said facilities at the existing, decade-old terminal might be getting dated and could be repurposed.

The plan also calls for $25 million for additional parking, north of the railroad, not connected to airport operations.

Bellone also wants $10 million to electrify the Long Island Rail Road line from Ronkonkoma to a relocated $35 million Yaphank rail station next to Brookhaven National Laboratory and near the 850-unit Meadows at Yaphank development.

In February, Romaine called for electrification of the Montauk branch between Babylon and Mastic-Shirley. Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said such a project would be costly, at $18 million per mile in today's dollars, and take years to complete.

Bellone also called for funding a $40 million sewer connection from the Ronkonkoma Hub through the Veterans Highway industrial area into the Sayville and Oakdale downtowns -- ultimately connecting to the Southwest Sewer District. Earlier, the county had included $25 million in capital program for an on-site sewer plant.

Romaine said Tuesday that Bellone's proposals may be "powerful enough to escape the orbit of old ideas" that have languished for decades. But he said Bellone may have to "put some more meat on the bones" and lay out specifically how he will pay for the project.

"His ideas to relocate the train station to Brookhaven Lab and moving the terminal at MacArthur are visionary," said Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, who was reached later. "But getting it funded is always the $64 million question."

Bellone will making a pitch for his plan with the LIA board of directors Wednesday.


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