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Suffolk lawmakers approve $4 million overhaul of Riverhead traffic circle

The Suffolk Legislature last night restored $4 million in capital funding to overhaul the traffic circle south of downtown Riverhead after Southampton officials and civic leaders pitched the project as a way to help revitalize Flanders and Riverside.

More than a dozen local activists pressed for approval of an omnibus resolution that would move up construction funding to next year. County Executive Steve Bellone initially had delayed major funding for the project until 2018, but now backs the expedited project.

"The traffic circle represents the gateway point to both the north and south -- the two forks," said Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. She said immediate funding is needed because plans are ready to move forward. She said residents "with open arms are clamoring for it . . . and fear scares away private investment."

The plan calls for the traffic circle to be enlarged into an oval with two lanes to help end traffic tie-ups on five separate feeder roads. Advocates say the circle, created in the 1930s, is overdue for an overhaul.

Backers say the project is essential to a larger Southampton plan to use Renaissance Downtowns, a Plainview real estate and investment firm, to revitalize the surrounding 3.5-square-mile community, where many businesses are shuttered. The area has significant potential because it borders on four miles of Peconic River waterfront and 1,000 acres of woodlands, backers say.

The Democratic majority approved the circle funding as part of a multipronged amendment to Bellone's proposed $119 million capital budget. They also voted down a GOP proposal to cut the capital budget by 10 percent to save $18.5 million. However, Democrats approved last- minute budget amendments that made $8.87 million in cuts to keep the level of borrowing at the same level as in Bellone's initial plan.

In a highly emotional debate, Democrats said the GOP threatened to derail critical projects largely funded with state and federal aid.

"If I'm getting heart surgery, you don't say do 10 percent less," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Hampton Bays). "I don't know what valve you're not going to connect."

But Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said the Democratic cuts "just prove our point. Government . . . has to be held accountable."

The legislature Tuesday unanimously approved a compromise resolution to speed up the merger of the county treasurer's office with the comptroller's office to Jan. 1. A voter referendum last year approved a merger to take place after the term of former Treasurer Angie Carpenter was up, but Carpenter earlier this year left to become Islip Town supervisor.

The legislature also approved a home rule message for proposed state legislation to extend the 3 percent hotel-motel room tax, which generates about $9 million annually, for another two years.

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