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OpinionEditorial

The road to reopening Long Island

The scene in Sayville as small businesses reopened

The scene in Sayville as small businesses reopened on Main Street on Wednesday. Credit: James Carbone

Long Island’s second phase of reopening this week brought with it a dose of optimism and hope.

Suddenly, we are able to dine again, get our hair cut, buy items from favorite retailers, and even go see a home for sale.

Now, we have to make sure restaurants, retailers and other businesses benefit from Phase 2 as much as possible, albeit with continued care and caution, to expand their operations and electrify their reopening.

But to do that, local governments trying to help these businesses need help. Both Nassau and Suffolk counties are expediting permits for outdoor dining, and there are efforts to close local roads to allow for more dining.

That’s much more complicated, however, for communities where the roads are controlled by the state.

Take Greenport, for example. The village and its business improvement district want to use a wider swath of sidewalk and street parking to expand the spaces available to merchants and restaurateurs, including on state roads such as NY-25. Greenport officials have safety plans, and are experimenting with portions of the downtown roads they control. But they, like officials in Riverhead and elsewhere across the Island, need the state’s approval to make the village’s comeback a reality.

And since such state roads utilize federal funding for construction or upgrades, the Federal Highway Administration also is involved, making this path even more difficult. First, there was the technicality in federal law that mandated that states or municipalities would have to pay fair market value for use of such roads. Last month, a federal executive order waived that requirement.

But that was only the first hurdle. Now, the state is working on guidance to municipalities on road closures and safety precautions. But it’s not finished yet. Even after it is, state officials said they need more in-depth plans from the interested downtowns, which in turn will require state and federal approval.

It’s a bureaucratic headache, but no funding from the state or federal government is required. So the state must cut red tape, get guidance out quickly, and make it easier for Long Island downtowns along state roads to benefit from dining and curbside retail. Every day — especially for seasonal communities on the North Fork — represents money, and an economic comeback, lost. Time is of the essence.

Meanwhile, the state should look to tweak the phase-by-phase requirements in ways that make sense. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement Thursday that localities could open public pools and playgrounds is a good start. Some local libraries, meanwhile, are starting to do curbside borrowing and are slated to open in Phase 3. Our seniors and families will depend on those facilities, especially as school winds down and summer begins, so, if there are ways for some to open sooner, that’s worth considering.

All of this, however, is dependent on local residents, who must continue to be smart, to social distance, and to wear masks. Without that, the progress we’ve had, and could enjoy in the coming weeks, quickly will be lost.

— The editorial board

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