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Study: Steve Bellone rapid bus plan would cost $78 million

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks in Melville

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks in Melville on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Credit: AP / Richard Drew

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's plan for north-south rapid-bus corridors, linking downtowns, businesses and research centers, is viable but will cost $78 million to implement along three recommended routes, a new county study says.

The $300,000 federally funded study, done by AECOM, a global design firm, calls for rapid-transit routes along 15 miles of Nicolls Road from Stony Brook University to Patchogue, and on 15 miles of Route 110 from Amityville to Huntington.

It also recommends a rapid-bus route along 17 miles of Sagtikos Parkway from Kings Park to Deer Park, but only if the huge 9,000-unit Heartland Town Square development in Brentwood is built.

"Suffolk County lacks a single north-south transit connection, making travel without a car extremely difficult," the study states. "Transforming mass transit commuting into a viable and attractive alternative for young job-seekers will provide an untapped potential to drive economic growth."

Bellone, who has dubbed the initiative "Connect Long Island," said the study proves bus rapid transit is viable and will get people out of their cars, ease traffic and reduce pollution.

"We cannot grow the economy by adding more cars to the road. We have to think about improving our ability to move people around," Bellone said. Using rapid-bus corridors "makes sense to connect the things and places people want to be."

The proposed system would rely on $600,000 hybrid buses traveling in dedicated lanes with expedited traffic signaling, preboarding fare collection and a network of shelter and bus stations -- a regime that has speeded up service by 15 percent to 30 percent in other areas where it is used.

Bellone said the system can't go forward without "significant aid" from the state and federal governments, and that more detailed studies are needed before construction could begin.

He estimated construction could not begin until 2016 and the first route would not open until at least 2018. Consultants say their cost estimates are based on 2013 dollars.

Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), minority leader, called Bellone's plan "a fool's folly" in light of the county's continuing $100 million structural deficit.

"Our infrastructure is crumbling and he is calling for more and more debt that my great-grandchildren will have to pay," Kennedy said. "It's the epitome of irresponsible government."

Bellone said the first priority would be the Nicolls Road route because Suffolk already has received a $1.5 million grant from New York State Energy Development Authority for design work.

While the study found Nicolls Road corridor has only 7 percent of jobs in Suffolk, the administration said the route is important because it would connect three major colleges and the growing Patchogue downtown and will have a connection to the planned Ronkonkoma Hub, its rail station and Long Island MacArthur Airport.

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