Funding approved for Rails to Trails, other county projects

Funding approved for Rails to Trails, other county projects

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Legislator Sarah Anker played a key role in securing funding for Rails to Trails, a wooded path for bikers and hikers from Port Jefferson to Wading River. File photo by Erika Kara

Though some Suffolk County lawmakers are champing at the bit to see certain local renovations and projects get underway, finding funding has been a tall task with partisan gridlock in the Legislature.

Several items passed during the July 17 legislative session, including funding for Rails to Trails, a two-lane wooded trail that will run from Port Jefferson to Wading River; and repaving and roadwork on a portion of Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. The road borders the towns of Smithtown and Huntington.

The county allocated $1.5 million for the Commack Road repaving, while another $6 million will come from federal aid. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Huntington) said that if the vote did not pass they would have lost access to those matching federal funds.

“Some of it wasn’t done correctly in my opinion, it does need to be widened, it needs to be repaved,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “Some parts of that road have had potholes there for years.”

Commack Road has been a point of contention between the towns of Smithtown and Huntington and Suffolk County for close to eight years, according to Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D). The dispute comes down to which side is responsible for cleaning and repairing the roads.

“We are looking to do everything to protect our taxpayers to make sure we get the appropriate county resources and the road gets paved,” Cuthbertson said.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has been promoting the Rails to Trails project for years. Funding the project through bonds came up for vote July 17 and it passed nearly unanimously with Kennedy abstaining.

“This is a long time coming, and in the seven years I’ve been in office I have not stopped facilitating this project,” Anker said.

The plan is to establish the trail from Port Jefferson to Wading River along rights-of-way and old train tracks able to facilitate both bikers and joggers. During the public speaking portion of the July 17 meeting, the room was filled with supporters for the trail.

“Long Island is filled with too many cars on clogged roads,” said Constance Iervolino, a board member of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “This would be a remarkable way to reduce that public safety threat.”

However, some residents still have large reservations about the project.

“The idea is good, the placement is bad,” Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz said at the meeting. “I have had many concerns that have not been dealt with. The depth of the asphalt is one of them — only three inches. The only answer I’ve gotten as to why that thin was because they wouldn’t be able to do the whole path.”

Of the $8.82 million for the Rails to Trails project, 94 percent of the project will be funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Half a million dollars of that bond were matching funds from just one of several federal grants, which had a looming August expiration deadline.

Other projects that were re-voted on included $150,000 to finance the planning costs for a new police K-9 unit headquarters and kennel, which was voted down.

Another vote for $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees was passed near unanimously with Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) giving the one dissenting vote.

Both the Commack Road repaving and Rails to Trails were voted down at the June 5 legislative meeting as the seven members of the Republican minority in the Legislature voted “no,” citing the projects’ inclusion in a series of lumped bonds. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) brought forward a proposal at the June 5 and 19 legislative meetings that included several bundled together bond requests for a wide array of projects to be voted on as a single package, but the seven Republicans in the Legislature did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, they said.