Development on Long Island is always a puzzle. The pieces of a project can take years to put together. Some are never solved.
So there is reason for cautious excitement about the picture emerging from the years-long quest to build a community around the shuttered train station near Republic Airport in East Farmingdale and reopen the station. Success still is not certain, but the persistence of the project’s many supporters is making that more likely. And that’s vitally important, since the redevelopment is rooted in one of the region’s most important long-term goals — attracting and keeping young people on Long Island.
The latest sign of progress is the planning firm hired by Babylon Town to draft smart zoning changes for land on either side of the tracks, west and mostly east of Route 110 and north of Conklin Street. The changes seem headed for town board approval in the fall. Renderings with housing, offices, bike lanes, public spaces and, possibly, dorms for nearby Farmingdale State College, all centered around a new station, look inviting. Community members are being asked for feedback, always a good step.
Other positive developments include the Metropolitan Transportation Authority committing $5 million for designing the new Long Island Rail Road station and doing environmental studies. A key component, the second track between Ronkonkoma and Farmingdale, a stretch that includes the Republic station, is well underway and will provide more and faster service. Suffolk County has $30 million in federal funding lined up to cover the bulk of the costs for a bus rapid-transit system on Route 110. Suffolk, Babylon and Huntington Town are working on the larger re-imagining of 110 as a high-tech corridor from Amityville to Huntington Station.
Infusing all of this is optimism stemming from other big ideas moving from dream to reality — like the Ronkonkoma Hub and Wyandanch Rising, two projects featuring new stations on the Main Line’s second track.
The Republic project checks a lot of boxes. It uses blighted land, not open space. It truly is a walkable, transit-oriented development, prized by the young people Suffolk hopes to attract. A new train station with a BRT system that includes offshoot bus lines would be a boon to businesses in the 110 corridor, Republic Airport and Farmingdale State College, whose bioscience park hosts four biotech startups, with four more in the pipeline.
An environmental cleanup will be needed, and some privately owned parcels must be acquired. But the biggest potential obstacle is the cooperation required between many layers of government in a region where that often is difficult. County Executive Steve Bellone pitched the station reopening 15 years ago as Babylon supervisor and is chief architect of the Route 110 overhaul. Current Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer is a strong proponent. But a Route 110 czar pushing everyone forward would be helpful. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who likes big projects and everything this one stands for, should provide the muscle.
Schaffer calls Route 110 the spine of Long Island. Its future is the region’s future. We have to get this right. — The editorial board