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Rice: LI transportation growth tied to $305B federal bill

Rep. Kathleen Rice addresses a Vision Long Island

Rep. Kathleen Rice addresses a Vision Long Island meeting at Molloy College in East Farmingdale on Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A recently passed $305 billion federal transportation bill will help bring Long Island’s infrastructure “into the 21st century,” Rep. Kathleen Rice said Tuesday.

At a meeting of the Long Island Smart Growth Working Group — a consortium of planning organizations in the region — Rice (D-Garden City) spoke on the topic of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, signed into law in December.

“Why is it important to know that that money is guaranteed? Because now you can plan,” Rice said of the FAST Act, the first long-term federal highway bill in a decade. “Now we have money for at least the next five years. It should be more than that. But at least that’s something. We’re going in the right direction.”

Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a nonprofit planning group, said the federal bill, combined with state funding, will equal about $8 billion in transportation spending on Long Island.

As included in the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s recent 25-year look ahead, the money will help fund projects including the Long Island Rail Road’s Double Track project between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma, roadway and bridge improvements on the Nassau Expressway, Middle Neck Road and Route 112, and local road projects, including bicycle and pedestrian projects in 15 downtowns such as Freeport and Bay Shore.

Alexander said the smart-growth proposals are “markedly different” from routine road-widening projects that dominated past regional transportation plans.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in here,” Alexander said at the meeting, held at Molloy College’s Sustainability Institute in East Farmingdale. “We have to acknowledge all the good work that’s being done.”

One major transportation effort not yet slated for federal or state funding is the LIRR’s proposed new third track between Floral Park and Hicksville. Rice said that while she has not taken a position on the proposal, she is telling concerned constituents living along the railroad’s Main Line that the project is inevitable.

“It’s not a question of ‘if.’ It’s ‘when.’ So try to extract whatever you can for your village,” Rice said. “Let’s try to see if we can look at this as a way to expand our infrastructure ... and also expand our economic base.”

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