September 26, 2007
News last week that the Long Island Rail Road would be expanding its service on the South Fork next month was cause for celebration for many who welcome relief from woefully traffic-congested and "nightmarish conditions" foreseen soon on County Road 39.
The LIRR would provide extra trains each day to make the trip from Speonk to East Hampton and Montauk. Each train would be capable of accommodating 400 passengers.
At its work session on Friday, the Southampton Town Board discussed a memorializing resolution, expected to be voted upon at the town board meeting yesterday, that would authorize Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney to sign a letter of intent between the LIRR regarding the provision of additional rail service during CR39 construction.
Heaney said the expanded service came about after Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Senator Ken Lavalle held a series of meetings, aimed at engaging the LIRR to provide additional train service.
Heaney pointed out that Councilman Steve Kenny, who has been working on the concept for years, was "stonewalled" in the past.
Heaney and the board lauded new LIRR President Helena Williams for facilitating the new service. "The idea of an intermodal bus/rail system for the East End has been hoped for since the early 1990s," said Heaney. "It is the new attitude of the LIRR that makes the pilot project possible." Heaney also appreciates the "inclusive manner in which Assemblyman Thiele has guided the planning of this project."
Although state and federal officials are providing grant funding for the initiative, the towns of Southampton and East Hampton have been asked to provide the bus and shuttle service necessary to take riders from the railroad stations to their places of employment.
Critical to the success of the project, said Heaney, is "a bus schedule people can depend on." North and south connections are critical and important to ensuring that commuters get to work on time.
The project, which has federal and state money to support the operation of the pilot commuter schedule, will begin on October 23, and continue for approximately seven months. "Its timing, ten days after the end of the 'cone' program, is a welcome beginning of a viable, reasonably priced alternative to traffic congestion during those periods when construction will add to the difficulty of traveling to work in the morning hours," said Heaney.
And at a cost of $2.25 per trip, the board agreed that it is an affordable option – "a bargain," said Heaney – and fast. Heaney pointed out that it would take approximately 11 minutes to get from Hampton Bays to the LIRR train station in Southampton Village. Based on such pluses, "providing a shuttle for employees is a minor chore," said Heaney.
The supervisor pointed out that the Southampton Business Alliance and major employers such as Southampton Hospital, the school district, and others in areas such as Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor have worked together to survey the willingness of employees to take public transportation and coordinate schedules.
Results, said Heaney, have been eye-opening: "Ninety percent of the staff of Southampton Hospital lives west of the canal."
Heaney said it's important for the town not to fail in its mission, because moving forward, the initiative might serve as role model for continuance of such light rail service, and future reliance on public transportation and a shuttle long recommended by the Five Towns Rural Transit, Inc.'s study. "We need to make this work," he said, so there will be no argument that "this is not a feasible idea."
In the past, said Heaney, the LIRR's argument for not adding service was "lack of ridership." He added the capability to add expanded service was always present.
Originally, the town was presented with two schedules but chose an option with two runs that would allow workers to arrive at the office on time, with an earlier train for those going to school. And, while Bill Jones, the Southampton Town director of human affairs, said return routes are "not perfect,' the goal is to work to accommodate employees. He reminded that these shuttles were in addition to regular LIRR service.
Next, bus routes will be laid out, said Heaney. And, since the town already has the 13 buses and drivers, "Our cost is really minimal." Cost to the LIRR will be $84,000 per month.
Some employers have agreed to donate use of their vans to transport their own workers.
The project got a similar welcome in East Hampton. Last Thursday night the East Hampton Town Board passed a resolution acknowledging the inter-agency partnership, and the responsibility for local municipalities to provide shuttles from the train stations to business centers. East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee said he was working with local business and school districts to co-ordinate the service.
Councilwoman Deb Foster lauded the measure as the first "realistic" effort to encourage people to use alternate means of transportation. "I'm urging people to use it," she said. Councilman Pete Hammerle said the next step would be to figure out how to do it on a regular basis throughout the day.