PDA

View Full Version : Proposed East End transit authority



Kris
January 9th, 2005, 07:56 AM
January 9, 2005

Two Tracks Converge

By JOHN RATHER

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2005/01/09/nyregion/09litrain_lg.jpg
A REFASHIONING of East End transportation could occur if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority sells or leases tracks to a proposed East End transportation authority. Here, the view east from Navy Road in Montauk.

AN unusual convergence of events may be opening a way for a top-to-bottom refashioning of public transportation on the East End, where traffic snarls and Hamptons summer gridlock have brought cries for years for something to be done, but where local opposition to new or wider roads remains fierce.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, already increasing fares and reducing service for the new year to close budget deficits, wants to raise an additional $1 billion by selling or leasing properties including parking lots, train yards and stations.

On the East End, some elected officials and groups want to explore creating an East End transportation authority that would buy or lease the Long Island Rail Road tracks that run along the North and South Forks, transforming them into the arteries of a new light rail and shuttle bus transit system.

Some of the basic ingredients for a future deal seem to be there. But the five towns and nine villages that make up the East End would need to agree first on a common course of action, and the authority, which owns the L.I.R.R., would need to be persuaded that are financial advantages to ceding control of the railroad's eastern extremities.

Even the most optimistic of East End transportation advocates agreed that making all that happen would take some doing, but several of them indicated that they were poised to give it a try.

"The M.T.A. certainly isn't winning any awards for how they are running the system out here," said Hank de Cillia of Bridgehampton, a spokesman for a private advocacy group called the Five Town Rural Transit Committee. "One of our arguments to them would be that we are an insignificant, tiny little part of their empire, and we think we could run it better."

(Thomas R. Suozzi, the Nassau County executive, also has designs on parts of the L.I.R.R. track system, having proposed a mass transit light rail loop for the Hub area in central Nassau that would incorporate the railroad's Oyster Bay and West Hempstead lines. But the plan is tentative and financing is nowhere near being secured.)

Tom Kelly, an M.T.A. spokesman, said he had not even heard of the proposed East End authority and could not comment on whether the M.T.A. would consider lease or sale of East End tracks. "This is not something we have explored," he said. "I won't say its premature, I just don't know the legality of it. It might not be feasible." The Long Island Rail Road public affairs office, informed of the proposal, did not offer any comment.

But legislation to create an East End transit authority has already been introduced in Albany. Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., a Republican from Sag Harbor, wrote a bill last year to create what would be called the Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Authority. It would cover the towns of Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island, Riverhead and Southold, and the nine villages within them.

The bill did not come to a vote, but Mr. Thiele said he would reintroduce it this month. He said he believed that East End officials supported the plan, but added that he had not discussed the proposal with M.T.A. or Long Island Rail Road officials.

"We have certainly talked to the M.T.A. about the type of service they provide now, and quite frankly it has been their lack of responsiveness that has resulted in this," he said.

Mr. de Cillia's group visualizes one-, two- or three-car self-powered trains running half-hourly on North and South Fork routes, supported by shuttle buses waiting at the stations to carry riders to or near their final destinations. This, Mr. de Cillia said, would be a better way to run a railroad in an area with 29 percent of Long Island's area but less than 5 percent of its year-round residents.

Currently the L.I.R.R. serves the North Fork with two eastbound and three westbound trains weekdays and two round trips on weekends connecting Greenport and Pennsylvania Station. There is also one round trip connecting Riverhead and Pennsylvania Station on weekdays. On the South Fork, the railroad runs five westbound and six eastbound trains on weekdays except on Friday, when there is a seventh eastbound train. On weekends there are five eastbound and four westbound trains.

The East End plan also envisions small-scale, primarily seasonal ferry and water taxi service with bus and rail links. Routes might include service between Orient Point and hamlets on the North and South Forks. The Cross Sound Ferry Company carries passengers and vehicles between Orient Point and New London, Conn.

The group contends that its proposal would avert further surrender to cars and roads while serving residents, visitors and second homeowners. Its advocates say it would accommodate freight trains in off-hours, connect seamlessly with the Long Island Rail Road and carry tradespeople to reduce the daily "trade parade" that East End residents blame for congesting roads, particularly on the South Fork. The group said tradespeople could initially drive their vehicles to secure parking locations near job sites and then travel to and from the locations by rail. They point out that many commuters to the East End work in restaurants, schools and area hospitals and had no need to travel with tools and heavy equipment.

Mr. de Cillia, a business consultant, said the group had been concerned more with what had to be than on how to do it, but recognized that creation of the new transportation authority might be necessary.

Southampton voted on Dec. 17 to make exploring an authority a part of the town's master plan. "This is really where our focus is," said Steve Kenny, a Southampton councilman. "What we would really like to see now is the M.T.A. coming to the table."

Mr. Thiele said a bill that created a new authority for the explicit purpose of immediately replacing the M.T.A. on the East End would have slim chance of passage. "That's probably an uphill battle," he said.

But he said chances were far better for establishing a new authority that would work cooperatively with the M.T.A. He said the new authority could be financed by what he said was a fair share of fares and money the East End paid in sales taxes, mortgage taxes and a number of other taxes to the M.T.A.

"From the research we've done so far it appears that when it comes to the M.T.A. the East End is definitely a creditor nation," he said. "If we had our fair share, we believe a train and shuttle bus service could be covered."

Mr. de Cillia's group estimated that East End residents, second homeowners and visitors accounted for $40 million in revenues routed to existing rail and bus service. The group said the amount far exceeded what the East End got back in services, but made no estimate of the difference.

A state-created authority would have the power to sell tax-exempt bonds to finance its operations and buy M.T.A. assets and new equipment. But backers of the new authority said large-scale borrowing was not part of their plan.

Instead, they spoke of securing federal financing for new light rail cars and exploring the possibility of leasing tracks. Mr. de Cillia said the M.T.A. might even agree to cede the tracks to the new authority.

Mr. Thiele said the M.T.A.'s announced interest in selling or leasing assets might be a sign the time was right for significant changes. "We may be underestimating this thing," he said. "Maybe the M.T.A. would be glad to let someone else take over."

Whether towns and villages could reach agreement would be another matter. Some are currently at odds over transportation issues.

Southold is suing East Hampton in federal court in an effort to knock down East Hampton ordinances that ban car-and-driver ferries and limit passenger ferries. Southold and Shelter Island, which has joined in the action, contend that they are being victimized by traffic to and from the Cross Sound Ferry terminal in Orient and points on the South Fork.

Joshua Y. Horton, the Southold supervisor, said it was unfair for East Hampton to bar ferries that could relieve traffic problems on the North Fork and Shelter Island. "That is the transportation issue that needs to be addressed," he said.

East Hampton, meanwhile, would be the terminus of a new limited-access highway built along the Long Island Rail Road tracks that is proposed for further study in the transportation plan the Southampton town board added to the town's master plan on Dec. 17.

The road, which Southampton officials concede would be unlikely to be built, would begin at the eastern end of County Road 39 in Southampton and end at the East Hampton town line near the East Hampton Airport.

William McGintee, the East Hampton town supervisor, said Southampton officials had given assurances that no road along the railroad would be built without his town's consent. "Any plan for that is not worth the paper it's written on without East Hampton agreeing," he said.

Mr. McGintee said he was more favorably disposed toward an East End transportation authority. "It is an interesting concept," he said.

But North Fork officials had questions. "I am certainly not a naysayer in regard to enhanced transportation," Mr. Horton said. "But I am not sure a new authority with brand-new bonding authority is the answer to that. There are agencies already in place, and we should be fighting to have better representation and service from those agencies."

The Greenport mayor, David Kapell, said he had heard what he described as "loose talk" about an authority. "I don't place much credence in that," he said. "Whether or not an authority is a viable alternative is a very complicated issue."

"In my opinion, smaller units of government do not operate efficiently from an economy standpoint," Mr. Kapell said. "It's hard for me to understand how you could create a smaller authority that people could afford to pay for. The problem is one of economics."

The five towns and nine villages are part of a $500,000 federally financed initiative to find a regional consensus on transportation and land use. If a consensus were reached, it would target county, state and federal financing for transportation.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council began the initative, known as the Sustainable East End Development Strategies, or Seeds, program, in 2001. Other participants include the M.T.A., the Long Island Rail Road and state and Suffolk County transportation agencies.

Gerry Bogacz, a planning group director in Manhattan for the council, said the initiative would not weigh directly on the question of whether a new transportation authority was warranted. "Seeds is trying to build a consensus on what needs to be done," he said. "Once that consensus is reached, it's a question of how do you implement that consensus."

Some local officials said the initiative had taken so long they doubted it would yield useful results. But a wealth of statistical information compiled by Seeds about a range of transportation options will be available soon.

Patricia Thiele of Sag Harbor, the Seeds coordinator, said data from computer modeling of transportation alternatives would be released in April. Ms. Thiele, who is not related to Assemblyman Thiele, said alternatives studied included road widenings, new roads, increased rail and ferry service and different types of services.

Mr. de Cillia, who took part in the initiative, said he had reviewed some of the results. "I have seen enough to know that if you make more investment in transit you are going to get more riders," he said.

Mr. Bogacz said the results could help lead to an inter-municipal agreement in 2006. "The data will hopefully tell a story that people will be able to read," he said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

alex ballard
January 18th, 2005, 07:33 PM
Why can't they simply extend electrfication and increase LIRR trains out there?