December 20, 2006

Regional Light Rail Study Soon

They wouldn't complain if they kept better track of what's going on. That's what East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee hinted when confronted by a critical letter from the business community last Friday. The East Hampton Business Alliance chided town officials for failing to address myriad issues that affect the economy. (See coverage elsewhere in this edition.)

The town's failure to find solutions to traffic problems was at the top of the complaint list. According to McGintee, the town has been working on traffic congestion solutions. In fact, he noted that East Hampton, along with the East End Transportation Council, Five Towns Rural Transit and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele have been spearheading a feasibility study of light rail shuttle services. Last week, in fact, a consultant that's conducted similar studies elsewhere in the northeast was a guest at the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association monthly meeting.

Thiele has procured a grant to underwrite a portion of the cost of the study; each municipality will also chip in. "We're just waiting for the state to release the money," McGintee said Friday. He said Thiele is confident that the new administration will act expeditiously in the new year. The feasibility study should take about 10 months, he predicted.

However, it was noted at last Friday's board meeting that the town can't get a light rail service implemented on its own. "It's not as simple as everybody thinks," the supervisor said. A lot hinges on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's willingness to consider the notion. Councilman Pete Hammerle pointed out that historically the MTA has given little thought to the needs of the East End. For years both East Hampton town and village officials have urged the agency to improve antiquated railroad overpasses locally. The councilman said MTA officials often cited the high cost of improvements as an excuse not to move forward. Almost simultaneously, he said, the authority announced a surplus so huge, it decided to let commuters ride the trains upIsland and in the city for free.

Speaking to the letter in general, Hammerle said he was pleased to see the Business Alliance "gathering some energy." He hopes that energy can be harnessed and used to lobby other entities, like the MTA, that play a role in addressing transportation concerns.

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