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Nesconset Highway 'green' plan adds trees, bike paths

The state Department of Transportation unveiled a new plan yesterday to replace 15 miles of Nesconset Highway with a tree-lined suburban beltway featuring smoother traffic flow and adding wide pedestrian and biking paths.

The move, unveiled at a public meeting attended by about 400 people, drew praise from critics of an earlier plan that would have simply widened the overcrowded road, but some residents remained skeptical.

"I say 'bravo,'" said Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), who added that he had been one of the biggest critics.

The latest version of the "green" project for the road, also known as Route 347, adds lanes along stretches and includes:

A bike-pedestrian path on the south side and a pedestrian path on the north side

Islands with trees and shrubs between the east and west lanes

Improved crosswalks

Rest areas for pedestrians and bicyclists

Information kiosks

Sound barriers with ivy

Native plantings in designated areas along the roadside

The plan also includes wildlife habitat tunnels under roadways, nesting structures and energy-efficient traffic signals.

Englebright and other Long Island leaders, including Suffolk Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown), and representatives from state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Gov. David A. Paterson's offices, applauded Transportation Commissioner Astrid C. Glynn for moving quickly to offer a plan more suitable to the environment and for including the public in decision-making.

Kennedy also applauded improvements to drainage systems in an area plagued by flooding.

The widening, from Northern State Parkway to just east of Route 112, had already been scheduled, but critics felt it was not a sufficient solution to overcrowded conditions. The new plan won them over.

"There's an improved relationship with the community," said Kate Slevin from Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a not-for-profit that was once a critic of the project.

Residents who remain skeptical were concerned about traffic tie-ups during construction, the viability of the walking and bike paths, and the cost.

Construction is slated to begin in 2010. The original plan had a price tag of $30 million. Officials expected the new version to cost about 10 percent more.

Glynn said Nesconset Highway is one of Long Island's more congested and dangerous roads.

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