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Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company

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The Port Jefferson ferry. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Amanda Perelli

Using public transportation in downtown Port Jefferson is no easy task, especially for those with vision, hearing or mobility impairments.

On April 17, Stony Brook University occupational therapy students evaluated the accessibility of the Suffolk County bus line, Long Island Rail Road and The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company ferry in downtown Port Jeff, for their capstone project. Richard Brenza, Paulina Chrostowski, Shirley Lin, Puja Rai, Eric Wong and Wendy York were the students conducting the evaluation. Their goal was to see how difficult it would be for people with various impairments to navigate from the ferry to the train station a mile-and-a-half south on Main Street. They worked with five Suffolk Independent Living Organization volunteers — a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding the disabled live independently — with visual, hearing and or mobility impairments, and presented their report at Village Hall in a private meeting May 22, which included representatives from Suffolk County Transit. Trustee Bruce D’Abramo attended the meeting on behalf of the village.

Students from Stony Brook University evaluate the accessibility of transportation services from the ferry to the train station in Port Jeff for people with various impairments. Photo from SBU

“Port Jefferson village is right next to our campus, it’s basically a college town,” Lin said. “Being that it is a place where a lot of us hangout, it was appropriate for us to see how accessible it is for individuals, or our classmates, who may have vision, hearing — any mobility impairments.”

The students received help in executing the evaluation from Pamela Linden, clinical associate professor, and Karen DeChello, clinical assistant professor — both of the occupational therapy program at SBU — and Amy Menditto, SILO’s NY Connects director.

“Our service learning projects are benefiting organizations and communities, rather than clinical practice,” Linden said.

Justin Ainsworth, outreach advocate at SILO, participated in the project alongside the other volunteers. Ainsworth has a power wheelchair and said he has no prior experience trying to ride the bus and was surprised he could.

“The [village] is fairly accessible, but there are always things that’ll make it easier,” Ainsworth said.

Before the group attempted to get on the bus, they came across an unexpected problem and asked themselves, “How would the visually impaired members cross the street alone?”

“I am a blind person who goes all over and for me to actually cross the street I have to put my hand up, put my foot out on the street and say ‘stop’ — and pray that they would stop so I could get to the other side,” said Marilyn Tucci, outreach and advocacy coordinator at SILO and one of the visually impaired volunteers.

“People with mobility impairments or vision impairments or hearing impairments, it’s not as easy for them to run down the corner to where the bus was.”

— Wendy York

The three-way intersection crossing from south to north on East Broadway adjacent to Main Street lacks a traffic stop light and audible walk signal, but the hurdles didn’t stop there.

The S61 Suffolk County Transit bus, which travels from the ferry dock to Patchogue railroad station and back, stopped down the street from its posted location, creating an added obstacle for the group of 11,
according to York.

“For us able bodies that are young, we can go to that bus that stops at a different place around the corner down the street,” York said. “People with mobility impairments or vision impairments or hearing impairments, it’s not as easy for them to run down the corner to where the bus was.”

The group arrived at the Port Jeff LIRR station, but struggled to board the train with ease as they had hoped, York said. They needed to track down the conductor and set up a ramp, which is the only way a person in a wheelchair can access the train.

“The gap that is in between the train car and the platform on the LIRR was, like, 8 inches and according to [Americans with Disabilities Act] standards it should be no more than 3,” York said. “I was with someone who was visually impaired so I helped her cross that gap, but she had told me previously — when she was alone — that there was a gap like that and her foot actually fell in between the car and she was stuck for a minute, which is obviously scary if the train were to move and no one knew. Luckily it didn’t.”

The students recommended small changes in consistency in their final report, like adding visual and audible traffic announcements for individuals to rely on.

“I think the most eye-opening part about it was seeing how many flaws there are in the system that still need to be worked out,” Brenza said. “It’s a lot better than it used to be, but there’s still a long way to go.”

Port Jefferson’s stop on the Long Island Rail Road. File photo by Erika Karp

The students got the chance to present their findings and interact with people from different transportation organizations at the meeting at Village Hall. Members of Suffolk County Transit told them the best way for something broken to get fixed is to call the company line directly and report it, according to Wong.

“They wanted to understand why the problem occurred and wanted to fix it, so it wouldn’t happen at another time,” Wong said. “We learned that it is not entirely Port Jeff’s responsibly to make all of the changes.”

The six students graduated June 22, earning master’s degrees in occupational therapy. The volunteers said they were grateful for the students efforts and both groups said they hoped the findings would make a lasting impact on the community.

“It’s a beautiful village and people with disabilities want to enjoy it, and it’s almost impossible to them to enjoy it unless they have sighted help,” Tucci said. “I hope the village and county and the town will really do something to put more lights there — and audible lights, especially by the ferry.”

D’Abramo said at a public meeting June 4 he told the students and SILO representatives he was eager to hear their findings, and reassured them the village would be an advocate in helping to deal with the transportation agencies involved.

“I tried to give them an idea of how many different agencies we were dealing with here — the MTA, the ferry, New York State Department of Transportation and Suffolk County busing,” he said.

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Repair work to strengthen bulkheads protecting the pier used by The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat ferry company is slated to be finished in June. Photo by Alex Petroski

It’s a common question lately for anyone within earshot of the Port Jefferson ferry: what’s that sound?

The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, which docks its vessels on the shores of Port Jefferson Village, is in the midst of a repair project that is addressing critical infrastructure, but it’s also causing residents to wonder aloud when they might have some peace and quiet.

Chesterfield Associates, a privately-owned contracting firm hired by the ferry company, is in the process of replacing sheet steel panels that make up the bulkhead, or retaining wall that protects the infrastructure below the pier, according to Jeff Grube, the general manager of the firm. Grube said the loud noise residents are periodically hearing is caused by a vibratory hammer, the machinery being used to drive the steel sheets into the underwater soil. If something obstructs the sheet from being driven into the soil — like in one case a submerged barge, according to Grube — that’s when the decibel level is loudest near the waterfront.

“Projects should include some type of shielding to prevent residences being rattled like this.”

— Facebook poster

“The old sheet piling was corroding to the point where they were starting to lose a lot of fill behind the bulkhead,” Grube said. He added that structural issues could arise if the repair work were not completed, causing a hazardous situation for anyone using the pier. Grube said Chesterfield Associates constructed the dock in the ‘80s, and thanks to regular upkeep by the ferry company, the bulkhead hasn’t needed to be addressed until now, but it was time for the repairs in order to strengthen its critical infrastructure. The general manager said the project is progressing as initially expected, and should be completed by the end of June. The ferry company first submitted an application to the village’s building department Sept. 1, 2017, which estimated the total cost for the project to be nearly $10 million.

The area behind the bulkhead is below the vehicle holding area for the ferry, according to Linda DeSimone, the senior structural engineer for Greenman-Pederson, Inc., the design firm overseeing the plan.

“I don’t understand how the village residents are defenseless to this latest issue,” a poster on a closed Facebook group comprised of Port Jeff village residents said Feb. 20, referring to the loud noise. “Projects should include some type of shielding to prevent residences being rattled like this. I wouldn’t expect to pay for my room downtown, and the noise has to be hurting all village businesses. Get that thing shut down and keep it shut down ‘til they provide a plan that protects the residents and businesses. No one wants to live in or spend money in the middle of a noisy shipyard construction project.”

Others joined the poster in questioning when a projected end date for the construction is, and if the noise violated village code. The village does have a section in its code dedicated to noise pollution, which states specific decibel levels not to be exceeded Sunday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. A lower decibel threshold exits for all other hours.

 

One of the exceptions in the noise pollution section of village code is for construction activities, which are permitted to take place only from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. For this project, the village passed a resolution Sept. 18 allowing the repair work at the ferry to be conducted from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

The added hours were approved to expedite the completion of the project.

“The hours of relief requested are on the bookends of the workday, so those hours would be mostly for setup and breakdown,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said in September.

Garant said in an email the village has not received many complaints about the noise.

“It’s unfortunate, but this work needs to happen — the ferry is an important, integral part of our harbor,” she said. The mayor added the village has no plans to revisit the section of its code pertaining to noise pollution, but instead will “stay the course and hope they complete [the work] ahead of schedule.”

The ferry company also addressed the repair work in a November 2017 Facebook post.

“The terminal improvements should improve traffic flows and help us to stage vehicles more efficiently,” the post said. “Thank you for your continued patience and please know how much we appreciate you using our service.”

This post was updated Feb. 26 to include an updated photo and video.

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The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat ferry company is temporarily operating with a significantly scaled down schedule. File photo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made some waves that could be seen from the shore in Port Jefferson during his State of the State address earlier this month, specifically regarding plans for infrastructure spanning the Long Island Sound.

During his Jan. 3 speech, Cuomo revived the decades-old idea of building a bridge or tunnel that would connect Long Island to New England.

“We should continue to pursue a tunnel from Long Island to Westchester or Connecticut,” he said. “New York State Department of Transportation has determined it’s feasible, it would be under water, it would be invisible, it would reduce traffic on the impossibly congested Long Island Expressway and would offer significant potential private investment.”

In December 2017, the DOT released a final draft of a Long Island Sound Crossing Feasibility Study that examined the potential of building a bridge or bridge-tunnel combination at five different sites. The 87-page study concluded that it could be economically feasible at three different locations: Oyster Bay to Port Chester/Rye; Kings Park to Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Kings Park to Devon, Connecticut.

State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), whose jurisdictions each include Kings Park, voiced vehement opposition to the plan.

Stakeholders in Port Jefferson are also unsure if the governor’s grand plan would be a good idea.

“In the back of every ferry operator’s brain is the possibility that a bridge or tunnel could replace a ferry route,” said Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company. “Given the complexity of a project such as the governor envisions, I think there will be some environmental concerns and some ‘not in my back yard concerns.’”

Hall stopped short of saying the hypothetical tunnel or bridge would harm ferry business, though he said he’d like to know where exactly the infrastructure would go before being completely for or against it. It’s far from the first time projects like this have been floated in the past, a point reiterated by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) whose district includes Port Jeff.

“I’m not sure about a bridge or tunnel, but an enhanced ferry service — invest in it, make it more efficient,” he said. He also said he would be concerned by the possible impact a massive infrastructure project like this would have on the ecosystem of the Sound.

The DOT feasibility study concluded the department should move forward with the next step: A five-year environmental evaluation process looking at the impact construction and the bridge would have.

“Gov. Cuomo has directed DOT to conduct additional engineering, environmental and financial analysis to determine the best path forward for this transformative project,” DOT spokesman Joseph Morrissey said in a statement. “DOT will closely examine any potential impacts as well as benefits to the local communities as part of the process.”

Police are seeking help from the public to identify a man who damaged a glass door at the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company. Photo from SCPD
Police are trying to identify a man who damaged a glass door at the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company. Photo from SCPD

After hours boat rides are not allowed.

A glass door to the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, located at 102 West Broadway in Port Jefferson, was damaged by a man between 4:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. July 23, according to the Suffolk County Police Department.

The suspect appears to be a white male in his 20s or 30s with short brown hair, medium build, seen wearing a gray shirt, gray shorts, black sneakers and a gold chain.

The police department is offering a cash reward up to $5,000 to anyone with information regarding the incident that leads to an arrest.

Anyone with information is asked to call Suffolk County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls remain confidential.