Suffolk County is edging closer to getting its first county bike path — one that will run 10 miles from Port Jefferson Station to Wading River and tie together schools, parks and nature preserves.
The public will have its first formal say next month on the preliminary design for the $8.75 million project, which is 80 percent federally funded and will run along the right of way for Long Island Power Authority utility lines.
The proposal was unveiled earlier this month at the county’s Council on Environmental Quality meeting, and it will be discussed at public hearings at Shoreham-Wading River High School on March 22 and at Miller Place High School on April 5.
County officials then must finalize the design after the hearings. Construction is expected to begin in March 2019 and finish in late 2020, with the path opening in the spring of 2021.
County planners first envisioned a network of bike paths 44 years ago, when former Suffolk planning director Lee Koppelman proposed a 1,159-mile system of bike paths.
At the time, the county capital budget set aside $750,000 to construct 200 miles of bikeways over three years, but none were ever built.
In 2013, County Executive Steve Bellone backed the idea of a bike path along the LIPA right of way, calling it “vital to our future” — but it’s taken four years to get to the preliminary design.
The current project hit a pothole in 2015 when state officials required the county to pass a resolution warning the county might be forced to return grant funds should the utility, which has given the county a 25-year lease at no cost, need to reclaim the land. The issue was later resolved when LIPA engineers did a study indicating they will have no use for the land for the next 25 years.
Backers say the proposed bike path will not only provide a safe place for pedestrians and bikers, but also attract out-of-town cycling enthusiasts and help grow local businesses like delis, restaurants and bike stores near the route.
They also say increased bike, walking and running traffic will discourage the unauthorized use of motorized dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles on the right of way, which now upsets neighbors.
The plan calls for a 10-foot-wide paved path on a 30-foot-wide ribbon of leased property along LIPA’s transmission right of way, which ranges from 60 to 120 feet wide.
The bike path would start at Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Port Jefferson Station and extend east to Wading River-Manorville Road in Wading River.
It would pass near four public schools, seven parks and recreation areas, the former laboratory site of scientist Nikola Tesla and the 5,018-acre former RCA property, which is now a state preserve.
On the west end, the planned bike path nearly connects to the 3.5-mile local Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway trail, which is on state land acquired for a never-built Route 25A bypass of Port Jefferson Village. The Greenway ends at a parking lot on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, and bikers would have to go about a mile to connect to the new county route.
“The Setauket Greenway has been an absolute gem for our community, and expanding it through Mt. Sinai, Miller Place and Rocky Point will be an extraordinary gift to the entire region,” said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket).
To the east, Riverhead Town is constructing its own bike path around the Enterprise Park at Calverton — the former Grumman test site — about one mile away from the east end of the proposed county bike path.
There are more than 2,000 bike paths nationwide using former rail lines, and more than 30,000 miles of multiuse trails around the country, according to Brandi Horton, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C., group Rail-to-Trails Conservancy.
Other experts say there are 21 transmission-line trails in the nation, from West Windsor, New Jersey, to Portland, Oregon.