Community members share concerns over bus rapid transit along Nicolls Road

Community members share concerns over bus rapid transit along Nicolls Road

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A rendering of proposed bus lanes on Nicolls Road. Rendering by Greenman-Pedersen, Inc.

While a Jan. 27 Suffolk County Council on Environmental Quality meeting was canceled, the letters the council requested of residents regarding a proposed rapid transit system along Nicolls Road were received.

Originally the council members were to meet to begin the decision-making process to determine the implications of the State Environmental Quality Review Act for the bus system. The proposal to create Suffolk’s first north-south multimodal transportation corridor was introduced by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in 2015. The proposed corridor would feature dedicated lanes for rapid transit buses traveling along Nicolls Road between Stony Brook and Patchogue, as well as high occupancy vehicle lanes in some sections, with the goal of relieving traffic congestion.

Rebecca Sinclair, county deputy commissioner of economic development and planning, commented on the canceled meeting in an email.

“The Department of Economic Development and Planning had become aware of community concerns not previously raised during outreach and project briefing sessions, and needs time to properly consider, while also being consistent with the requirements and regulatory framework of both the county and the federal funding agency.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was one of the letter writers. In his letter of Jan. 20 that he shared with TBR News Media, Englebright expressed his concerns about the project and asked the council to require a full environmental review accompanied by the preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

“For my constituents Nicolls Road is much more than just a transportation corridor; it is the gateway to our community,” he wrote.

According to Englebright, the project could add 75 acres of impermeable pavement to the corridor, and he was informed that it would span “34 subwatershed areas and crosses the regional groundwater divide that defines the center of the deep-flow recharge of our sole-source aquifer system.”

Englebright said the road was originally designed to be a north-south greenway, noting this is most relevant to the section of Nicolls from Route 25A to 347. He added the area “was central to the vision of Ward Melville who was our community’s original planning genius and patron.” Melville donated the land that Stony Brook University is situated on.

“Stony Brook University straddles Nicolls Road in this stretch of roadway,” Englebright wrote. “Expanses of green grass fill the wide median and stands of native woodland trees create the natural feel of a linear parkway and provide a green screen for the university campus as per Mr. Melville’s expectation. This legacy should not be compromised.”

The Three Village Civic Association also shared its CEQ letter with The Village Times Herald. Like Englebright, the TVCA is urging the CEQ to recommend a SEQRA Positive Declaration and a full environmental impact statement for the transit project.

“Nicolls Road is the gateway to the Three Village community which includes Stony Brook and the Setaukets,” the letter read. “It’s more than just a transportation corridor; it defines the rural and historic character of the Three Villages.”

Both Englebright and the civic association feel that there should be more public input when it comes to the project.

“To date the outreach by Suffolk County has been deficient and poorly carried out,” the TVCA letter stated. “In fact the only hearing in which the public was invited to attend to learn about the bus transit project was held on December 13, 2016, several days before Christmas and at Suffolk Community College, a location miles away from the Three Village community.”

CEQ will meet Wednesday, Feb. 10, via Zoom at 9:30 a.m. Residents can email their statements for the public portion of the meeting to [email protected].