Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone will not veto a plan to fund several transportation projects throughout the region, despite calls for him to do so to push for more money for a critical road project in the county, Bellone’s office said this week.
The announcement Tuesday followed calls from the Long Island Contractors Association, or LICA, a construction worker lobbying group, urging Bellone, a voting member of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, to veto several planned amendments to the agency’s $35 billion Transportation Improvement Plan. The plan, known as TIP, selects which regional transportation projects will be submitted for federal grant funding.
In a letter last month to Bellone, LICA executive director Mark Herbst urged the county executive to use his veto power to ensure the stalled effort to rebuild Route 347 in Suffolk is added to the plan.
Bellone joined Herbst and other elected officials at a February rally calling for additional state funding for the Route 347 project. It aims to reconstruct 15 miles of roadway stretching through Islip, Smithtown and Brookhaven and used daily by 70,000 motorists. Funding for the project, which began in 2010, ran out last year after fewer than five miles of the roadway had been rebuilt.
Project proponents hoped as much as $60 million would be included in the new state budget, but got just $15 million. That was enough to begin design work on the effort’s next phase, but not to resume construction work. Without a kick-start, Herbst estimated the construction wouldn’t pick up any earlier than 2023, and may not be finished until 2034.
Herbst, in his letter from the construction workers lobbying group, called the allotted state funding “stunning."
“Now, given Albany’s sorry legacy on this issue, it is time to amplify your call to action,” Herbst wrote to Bellone.
But Suffolk officials on Tuesday rejected Herbst’s request, saying they did not believe voting down a slate of transportation projects in the TIP amendments, including the Long Island Rail Road’s proposed construction of a third track on its Main Line in Nassau, was the way to go.
“Similar to our discussions with the state legislature and governor’s office during budget negotiations, we will continue to advocate for more funding for improvements to Route 347,” Bellone spokesman Jason Elan said.
Herbst, who met with officials from Bellone’s office Tuesday, said he remained optimistic that Bellone would continue advocating for the project.
“I guess you could say he wants to catch flies with honey, rather than vinegar,” Herbst said.
Herbst said the $15 million allotted by the state for the project wouldn’t mean much to drivers “sitting in traffic on a daily basis."
But state Department of Transportation spokesman Joe Morissey said Tuesday the funding would “lay the groundwork for future phases,” including through preliminary engineering work.
“The New York State Department of Transportation understands and appreciates the vital link that the Route 347 corridor provides in serving the north/central portion of Suffolk County,” Morissey said. “DOT has fulfilled the Route 347 corridor commitments laid out in the current five-year capital plan, which amounts to more than $160 million in work done to date.”