After decades of delays, Suffolk County is moving forward with a long-planned $10 million "Rails-to-Trails" hiking and biking path along the North Shore.
County Executive Steve Bellone signed legislation Friday authorizing the final portion of funding needed to begin construction of the 10-mile path, which will be built along the abandoned Wading River railway line owned by the Long Island Power Authority.
"We want Suffolk County to become known as a national destination for hiking and biking," Bellone said at a news conference along a portion of the trail in Shoreham. "That's our dream. And this project will help vault us to making this vision a reality."
Officials say the trail, which will run east-west and parallel to Route 25A, will improve pedestrian safety and provide a convenient location for biking, jogging and even cross-county skiing.
The project will be funded with $9.5 million in federal money and $500,000 in borrowed county funds approved by the Democratic-controlled county legislature earlier this month.
The county plans to release a bid for construction this fall with a contract expected to be awarded by the end of the year. Work is expected to begin late this year or early next year with the trail opening in 2020.
The 10-foot-wide trail would connect Port Jefferson Station, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point, Shoreham and Wading River and would feature kiosks at trailheads, quarter-mile markers and railings on inclines, officials said.
The path will intersect with the Tesla Science Center, a museum at a former laboratory in Shoreham once used by famed engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla, and with downtown Rocky Point and shops in Mount Sinai.
"This will be a tremendous amenity for our community and a big boost for our downtowns," said Rory Rubino, a member of the Rocky Point Civic Association and Rocky Point Historical Society.
The county first began discussing the project in the 1970s, but there was little movement until the original Rails to Trails path was proposed in 2001 by advocates of the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail.
But for years the project faced resistance from former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, LIPA and residents who expressed privacy and safety concerns.
Lawmakers, who hosted two widely attended public hearings on the project last year, said they've addressed the community's concerns and determined the project will have no negative environmental impact.
Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai), a lead project advocate, said civic associations are raising money to install privacy fencing and shrubbery for homes near the trail.
"We can finally can see the finish line," said Anker, adding that the path will ultimately increase property values for homeowners and improve maintenance of the area through agreements with local bike groups.
LIPA also had come around, with CEO Tom Falcone saying in a statement, "Today marks another positive step toward creating a unique corridor in Suffolk County that will connect communities and promote healthy lifestyles."
Martin Buchman, owner of the Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn, called the project a "no-brainer."
"I've never seen anyone in a bad mood on a rail-trail," Buchman said. "It's a community unifier."