May 24, 2006
United Effort Asking For Funds
There's been a lot of finger pointing, Assemblyman Fred Thiele acknowledged. Over the last year or so, representatives from the federal, state, county, and town level have bickered over who would bear the financial burden of a massive reconstruction of County Road 39 in Southampton. County Executive Steve Levy has repeatedly stated that Suffolk alone could never handle the staggering $70 million job.
Just as often Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney accused Levy of passing the buck. Discord between the two prompted Congressman Tim Bishop to step in and make peace. Earlier this spring, his office set up a meeting and invited reps from every level of government that represents Southampton, with CR39 the focus of discussion.
Last week Thiele reported that the most important conclusion to come out of the confab was a mutual agreement that if the job is ever to proceed, more federal money will be necessary. To that end, local lawmakers traveled to Hauppauge last week to urge the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council to earmark additional funding for the project.
Pursuant to federal regulations, in order to receive federal transportation dollars, every metropolitan area must have a single organization charged with comprehensive transportation planning. NYMTC is the designated agency for Manhattan, Long Island, and the Lower Hudson Valley and makes recommendations as to how federal transportation dollars are spent. According to planning group director Gerry Bogacz, the federal government recognizes a recommendation from the council as "a reality." He said, "If the recommendation comes, the funds will follow."
NYMTC members are currently holding hearings across the region, soliciting input in advance of making recommendations. During the outing in Hauppauge last Thursday, Levy, who along with county executives within the city, Long Island and Lower Hudson Valley is a voting member of NYMTC, implored council reps to designate CR39 a regional road eligible for additional funding.
The five and a half mile strip links one section of State Route 27 with another, and serves much more than just the local community of Southampton, Levy explained. It's the one route onto the South Fork, he emphasized, and key to both economic success and quality of life on the South Fork, not to mention its public safety role as the sole evacuation route in the event of an emergency. Along with the congested Sagtikos Corridor upIsland, Levy declared the County Road 39 improvements Suffolk's two highest priorities.
Legislator Jay Schneiderman spoke of driving to Hauppauge on weekday mornings and seeing cars simply stopped where Sunrise Highway merges into CR39. "They just sit there," he said. To avoid the traffic jams, many motorists detour onto back roads. Neighborhoods through which the de facto bypasses wind have seen an erosion of their quality of life. "We can't live with this situation," Schneiderman said.
Thiele noted that years ago when the notion of making it easier to reach the South Fork was first considered, segments of the community rose up against the construction of better roadways. They were fearful easier access would entice an overwhelming number of visitors. Thiele continued with chagrin. "We didn't build it, but they came anyway."
Like Levy and Schneiderman, the assemblyman urged council members to make CR39 funding "an extremely high priority." Jon Schneider, regional director for Congressman Tim Bishop, echoed the request, reading a letter from the representative. "This long overdue project requires immediate attention, and traffic problems in this area have increased dramatically over time," Bishop wrote, continuing "I view CR39 as the most pressing transportation problem facing the 1st Congressional District."
NYMTC's listening tour will continue through the end of June.