Proposed Nicolls Road bus system still in early stages

Proposed Nicolls Road bus system still in early stages

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

Suffolk County is moving forward with a rapid-transit bus system along Nicolls Road, even though the initiative is still in its early stages.

On Jan. 27, the Suffolk County Council on Environmental Quality, known as CEQ, will hold a virtual meeting to determine the need for a State Environmental Quality Review for the bus system. Residents interested in submitting their thoughts on the SEQRA review will be able to email them to CEQ (details at end). The opportunity will be the first of many for the public to comment on the system in the near future, according to Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who is also a CEQ councilmember.

The proposal to create Suffolk’s first north-south multimodal transportation corridor was introduced by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in 2015. The proposed corridor will 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.

Buses would operate in HOV lanes on the inside of the road and along specialized bus lanes along the outside portions of the road. The buses will go from the Stony Brook train station all the way down Nicolls Road to Patchogue, and smaller routes would be incorporated to travel to the Ronkonkoma train station and MacArthur Airport.

“There are a lot of important improvements to a corridor that is a key north-south corridor in Suffolk County,” Hahn said.

The county legislator said it’s a tremendously large project which includes a more-than 5,000-page document for CEQ members to review. While she said it seemed as if the county had hoped the council would come to a decision about the SEQRA review in the December CEQ meeting, the members asked for more time to review the documents, saying it would take multiple sessions. They will also decide which will come first, a SEQRA review or a National Environmental Policy Act review, as the county has received federal funds for the project.

“We’re spending a significant amount of time going over each piece of it,” Hahn said.

Different topics CEQ members have and will review include groundwater effects if any, proposed pedestrian bridges, noise walls in specific spots, vegetation, air quality, bus shelters, home values, traffic estimates, coordination of bus routes, environmental analysis and more.

At the December meeting, CEQ members also made recommendations that data be added to the 5,000-plus page document.

“We are by no means ready to make a determination, and we are really early in the stages of the review,” she said, adding CEQ doesn’t expect to make a decision about the SEQRA review until February.

There are different phases of the project, and regarding the Three Village area, work won’t begin north of the expressway until 2024. Hahn said before any work begins there would be multiple outreaches to various civic groups and chambers in affected areas.

Proposed changes along Nicolls Road include intersection improvements at Hawkins, Hammond and Mark Tree roads, as well as Pond Path. Proposals include eliminating the left-hand turning lanes at the intersections and shortening the time of the red lights on Nicolls Road at those intersections for safety purposes and to help with traffic flow.

Residents who are interested in submitting statements regarding the council’s SEQRA review decision of the project can do so before the Zoom meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 9:30 a.m. The council invites residents to send in statements for the public portion by emailing them to [email protected].