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Opinion

EDITORIAL: MTA cuts to North Fork are off track

The MTA is tying a squirming Pauline to the tracks yet again. The proposed cuts to the sparsely used LIRR service from Ronkonkoma to Greenport could start a discussion of transportation alternatives on the North Fork, but it shouldn't simply be a ruse to rescue the unpopular MTA tax.

Long Island Rail Road President Helena Williams says it's time to think about abandoning rail service and instead envision a future where privately operated express buses run on dedicated roadways that would replace the tracks.

That's certainly a fresh idea that deserves debate. But there are fairness questions that go beyond the cost of a little-used rail line. East Enders receive very little mass transportation, especially to mitigate increased summer traffic. Yet the five East End towns send $578 million each year to the MTA through various taxes, including the reviled payroll tax. It's taxation without transportation.

Suspending trains between Riverhead and Greenport could save the LIRR $1 million a year in operating costs, plus another $100 million for safer signals the federal government wants before 2015. But the North Fork lacks alternatives, unlike urban areas with overlapping service.

The ultimate insult is the MTA's March 10 hearing on proposed cuts is slated for Carle Place. That's pretty far from those who would be losing service. Williams says she is making this bold move to start a conversation about the future. It's a long way from being finished. hN

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