As a state effort to add lanes to Route 347 in Smithtown gets ready to enter its second phase next week, former critics are hailing the project as a model for future highway development.
When the 13-phase project is finished, a 15-mile stretch of Route 347 from Hauppauge to Port Jefferson will feature bike trails, walking paths, solar-powered lighting, raised medians and trees to make the highway safer and more attractive, officials and transportation advocates said this week. The $600 million project is expected to be completed by about 2031.
"They're basically taking a road that was very alienating to drive on, very difficult to drive on, and they transformed it into an extension of the community it goes through," said Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), a former critic. "It's more like a Main Street now."
The project's first phase, from Veterans Memorial Highway to state Route 111, was completed last week. The second phase, to Mount Pleasant Road in Smithtown, is to start next week and will add a third lane in each direction. The road eventually will be widened to Route 25A in Port Jefferson.
Originally a farm delivery trail, Route 347 evolved after World War II into a perpetually congested commuter route lined with shopping centers such as Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove. Daily traffic climbed to 71,000 vehicles today from 48,000 in 1969, according to state figures.
The state Department of Transportation's original widening plans were scored by residents, who feared their land would be seized to expand the road. Englebright said those plans "looked like the Cross-Bronx Expressway."
Designers drew up new plans for narrower lanes that take less land. The speed limit will be lowered to 45 mph from 55 mph.
Route 347 is "the first major Long Island road project that had more amenities than just more pavement and more asphalt," said Vision Long Island executive director Eric Alexander. "It's not just another big roadway project."
Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said he believes most residents now like the project because state officials accepted their suggestions.
"The old thinking of DOT was just to get it done as quickly as possible," he said. "The attitude has changed, the thinking has changed, and I think the projects . . . are the better for it."
State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said the road's new look "will help protect the surrounding communities for years to come."