April 19, 2006
County Road 39 Confab Coming
Considering the feds will pay for the lion's share of the project, Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney was nonplussed. County Executive Steve Levy has repeatedly stated that Suffolk can't afford to cover the entire cost of a major County Road 39 reconstruction.
It doesn't have to, Heaney pointed out.
Traditionally the federal government underwrites 80% of the cost of highway projects, with the county chipping in just 20%. With the project estimated at $70 million so far, that makes the county's share $14 million. Suffolk does have to front the expenditures and seek reimbursement from the federal government, however.
This week Heaney will have a chance to voice his concerns as Levy hosts a meeting between county, state, federal, and town officials to discuss the project. Through a spokesman he said his goal in holding the conference is "to see if we can get support from the state and federal governments to expand the parameters of the modifications that can be made. It's understood that the county doesn't have the financial wherewithal to go it alone on a $70 million project. We are looking to see what the appetite is for state and federal assistance so we can plan accordingly. The more state and federal funding we get, the more elaborate our plans will be."
"Expand the parameters of the modifications? What does that mean?" Heaney asked. To the supervisor, endeavoring to gauge an appetite means the county hasn't moved forward in securing federal dollars since the debate first commenced a year ago. "It's not about appetite, it's about political will," the supervisor said. There's no evidence the county has sought additional federal dollars for the project, he offered.
Last spring The Independent revealed aspects of the county executive's capital budget that appeared to push funding for improvements to one of New York State's most fatal roads back beyond the timeframe local officials expected. Heaney's reaction to the news earned him no small sum of disfavor with Levy.
The project would proceed in several phases. The first phase includes engineering and design, with a segment devoted to purchasing private property to include in an expansion. Per Levy's plan, actual construction wouldn't begin for several years still.
Last year Legislator Jay Schneiderman successfully lobbied colleagues on the horseshoe to revise Levy's budget to depict spending for the acquisitions sooner rather than later. According to executive branch officials, however, the change fails to reflect the actual timeframe during which the money will be allocated.
Releasing his new spending plan last week, Levy reverted to his originally proposed timeframe. Carmine Chiusan, a financial analyst for Levy, said the proposal is a realistic depiction of how federal aid is scheduled and how the project should move forward. "It is advancing," he observed.
Whether the project advances at the rate of a glacier or whether it can move a little quicker will likely be among topics lawmakers discuss this Friday. On Monday Heaney said he was optimistic about having an opportunity "to sit in a room with Public Works people who will bring a professional as opposed to a political bent to the discussion."