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Rails to Trails

A biker enjoys a section of the Greenway Trail.

Generations ago, the pioneers of suburbia planned our region with one mode of transportation in mind. Cars.

Our forebears, led by urban planner Robert Moses from the 1920s onward, developed our region around the automobile, viewing the car as the mechanical embodiment of core American values: individualism, autonomy, freedom and progress.

To accommodate their automotive aspirations, they built elaborate networks of roads and bridges, connecting every home to every school, supermarket, shopping mall and office park along a continuous stretch of pavement.

Generations later, we now know this thinking was profoundly short sighted. Modern realities of endless traffic congestion painfully extinguish yesterday’s fantasies of limitless open road.

Today, we exist in a decidedly auto-focused, auto-dependent context whereby every essential activity in our lives is mediated by — and requires access to — a motor vehicle.

While cars are indisputably an important component of our transportation ecosystem, they cannot be the only mode of transportation available to us.

Many seniors or people with disabilities cannot operate a car. Young people entering the workforce often cannot afford the high costs of car ownership and maintenance. It should come as no surprise that these demographics are fleeing our region in droves.

A recent AAA report estimates the average annual cost of car ownership is now over $12,000 per year — up more than 13% from last year. For our residents, cars represent a growing liability, disrupting our finances and hindering our quality of life.

Hiking and biking trails are a possible remedy to our transit woes. While creating valuable recreational opportunities, these amenities fulfill an even greater need by opening an alternative to our cars.

For example, the North Shore Rail Trail extends from Mount Sinai to Wading River, running parallel with state Route 25A. For nearby residents, the trail facilitates access to every storefront, parkland and local institution along that highly trafficked corridor — without an automobile.

Unlike the road, that confines us to the interior of our cars, the trail places us outdoors and in relation with nature. Trails restore that vital connection to the land severed long ago through auto-focused regional planning.

The time is now to expand and interconnect our existing trails. Like our roads, we must connect every community on Long Island along one continuous greenway.

The North Shore Rail Trail and the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway are separated by just over a mile. Planning must commence now to link these trails together. 

But we cannot stop there. We must plan and construct new hiking and biking routes, introducing these trails to communities currently without them.

Unlike past decision-making, our plans for new trails must be done purposefully. Greenways should not be limited to parks and open spaces — they must also extend into our neighborhoods, our commercial districts and our schools.

Still, an integrated transportation network must account for all modes of transport — private and public. A more agile and efficient bus system is in order. We call upon Suffolk County Transit officials to explore shorter buses that can better maneuver and adapt to meet the needs of riders.

Our commuters require faster, more frequent rail service. The electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road would satisfy this end. We call upon the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1) and our New York State delegation to advance this plan more aggressively.

With creative thinking, community-based planning and bold vision, we can revolutionize our transit network, rectifying decades-old faults and counteracting our regional decline. Together, let us blaze new trails ahead. Suffolk County’s new GEAR Up program is a step in the right direction.

Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro, Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico, with members of the Brookhaven highway department and Alice Steinbrecher’s second grade class. Photo by Aidan Johnson
By Aidan Johnson

Town of Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquardo (R), along with Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), unveiled a historical sign Tuesday, June 13, marking the location where the Shoreham Railroad Station once stood.

The sign had been requested by a Miller Avenue Elementary School second-grade class after taking their inaugural walk on the North Shore Rails to Trail last year, wishing to know more about the lost station.

Losquadro holding up the class letter requesting the Shoreham Railway Station marker. Photo by Aidan Johnson

After receiving a letter from this year’s class, headed by teacher Alice Steinbrecher, Losquadro worked with the Wading River and Shoreham historical societies to collect information about the station, coordinating with the town carpentry shop and East End Sign Design, which printed and donated the marker.

 “The most important thing I think for young people is to know you can make a difference,” Panico told the class during the unveiling ceremony. “By writing to Superintendent Losquadro, you got this done with the help of your teacher.”

Steinbrecher, in an interview with News 12, described how her class was learning about their community’s history and how it changed over time, along with the Rails to Trails project, which created a public path from the former railroad corridors of the Shoreham train station.

“So I had an idea: Let’s walk to where the train station was, and my own children thought I was crazy,” Steinbrecher said. “They said, ‘Mom, you’re walking to nowhere,’” but now, “We have someplace to actually stop and see some of the history.”

The marker is located near Briarcliff Road and North Country Road just south of the current Rails to Trails.

Each class member was given a certificate of congratulations for their civic participation and contribution to chronicling the area’s local history.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), at podium, with Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), left, and Bellone, right. Photo by Raymond Janis

In what is typically a quiet spot in the woods of Shoreham, elected county officials and community leaders gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 10.

The North Shore rails-to-trails project was first introduced some five decades ago when a young woman at the time wrote a letter to the editor advocating for the conversion of an old rail line into a bike path. After decades of planning, the path, which links Mount Sinai to Wading River and everything in between, is finally complete.

Bikers celebrate the opening of the North Shore Rail Trail.
Photo by Raymond Janis

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) headlined the event. He spoke of the immense willpower on the part of the parties involved in making this dream a reality.

“You know any time a project is on the drawing boards for 50 years and you’re actually at the ribbon cutting, that’s a great day,” he said. 

In March 2020, the county completed its updated master plan for hiking and biking, which called for 1,200 miles of new bike infrastructure, according to Bellone. At full build-out, the plan would put 84% of county residents within a half-mile radius of a biking facility. The opening of the North Shore Rail Trail, he suggested, is an important first step to executing the master plan.

“This opening today really goes a long way toward kicking off that next effort — and we don’t want all of that to take another 50 years,” the county executive said. “That’s the kind of transformative investment we need to be making to keep our region prosperous and growing and attracting and retaining young people.” 

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) spearheaded much of this project through the various levels of government and into completion. During that process, Anker said her office overcame a number of obstacles before getting to the finish line. 

“We understood as a community we needed this,” she said. “My number one priority in making sure this happened was, and still continues to be, public safety — making sure our residents, especially our kids, have a safe place to ride their bikes.” 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), prepares to cut the ribbon, surrounded by county Legislators, state and local officials, and leaders from throughout the community. Photo by Raymond Janis

For Anker, the trail offers a number of benefits to local residents, providing bikers with an open space to pursue their hobby while mitigating safety concerns about bikers sharing public roads with drivers. Additionally, the trail will encourage more residents to use their bikes to get around, limiting traffic congestion and air pollution from cars.

“I know someone that lives in Rocky Point,” Anker said. “He takes his bike on the trail now to get to his job in Mount Sinai … that’s what this trail is all about.”

Joining Anker was her colleague in the county Legislature, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). Hahn said trails like these can help to band neighboring communities together, establishing a sense of cohesion throughout the area.

“Between this one and the Port Jeff Station-East Setauket Greenway Trail, we can get from 25A in Setauket all the way to Shoreham-Wading River safely,” she said. “Suffolk County’s roads have consistently fallen on a national list of the most dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians. This is the kind of vision we need to turn that around.”

New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) delivering her remarks during the events. Photo by Raymond Janis

State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) suggested that at a time when tax dollars are leaving Long Island communities, the opening of this bike path is also a symbolic victory for the community members and their representatives.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend taxpayer money than to invest it in something that is a free, recreational and healthy activity for not only the residents of Suffolk County, but for all of New York,” she said.

Town of Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro (R) detailed the many logistical hurdles that the Highway Department had to overcome to make this project possible. 

“There are over 30 road crossings and all of them are town roads,” he said. “We had to work very closely on making sure that the design of that provided for safe passage for our bikers and walkers.” He added, “I live about a third of a mile away and rode my bike here [today]. I ride here with my kids all the time and it is a fantastic addition to our community.”

Anker ended with one final reflection before the official ribbon cutting, placing the trail in historical context. “The original idea came about 50 years ago at a Sound Beach Civic [Association] meeting and also a young girl in 1974, who wrote a letter to the editor,” the county legislator said. “It did take a while, but we did it.”

Officials from Shoreham Village, Suffolk County and utility companies look at plans for the North Shore Rail Trail, which will stretch from Wading River to Mount Sinai. Photo from Anker’s office

Work is picking up once again on the North Shore Rail Trail project, also known as Rails to Trails. Plans are for a 10-mile bike and walking path along LIPA-owned right of ways from Wading River to Mount Sinai.

Workers have done grading and the subbase for the North Shore Rail Trail. Plans are to pour asphalt starting from Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said Medford-based DF Stone Contracting, which was tapped for the Rail Trail project, has finished grading and creating the subbase layer on the path from Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai to Sound Beach Boulevard in Miller Place. Workers are still laying the subbase layer heading further east.

Though there was a period during the pandemic when work stopped for about a month in order to create a safety plan for the project, the company should be ready to start laying down asphalt some time in October. That part of the project will run from Crystal Brook Hollow Road up to Sound Beach Boulevard and should be finished by the end of the year, the legislator said. 

Though the project may have to break for the winter, the hope is to have the entire path open to the public by summer of fall 2021.

“It’s literally moving along,” Anker said.

The $8.82 million trail is being funded through federal and state grants, along with Suffolk County funds. Despite major financial difficulties that Suffolk County faces due to COVID-19 and the subsequent business shutdowns, Anker said the funding for the trail is definitively set. 

If anything, she said the ongoing pandemic has made even more of a case for the trail.

“The pandemic has made people understand how important it is to have outdoor recreational locations,” she said.

This week Anker and officials from the Village of Shoreham, including Mayor Brian Vail, former mayor Ed Weiss met with officials from Verizon, Altice and PSEG Long Island to discuss the trails path. Plans are to go across the old stone bridge that arches across Woodville Road. To make the path accessible, workers would need to run the electrical lines under the bridge instead of over it. The bridge would also need new guardrails and fencing, particularly fencing that curves inward so people on the bridge can’t throw items over and onto cars passing underneath.

There are some more spots along the trail that present challenges. One is a power substation at the corner of Apricot Road and King Road in Rocky Point, where Anker said the path will need to snake around the substation rather than through it. Another is along Echo Avenue in Sound Beach, a relatively highly trafficked road where the path would need to cross. The legislator said she and the county Department of Public Works would need to work with the New York State Department of Transportation in order to make such a place safe to cross.

This article has been amended to correct the ownership of the right-of-ways on the North Shore as well as how far workers have added the subbase layer on the trail.

The North Shore Rail Trail from Mount Sinai to Wading River has leveled the land where the path is expected to go. Photo by Kyle Barr

The North Shore Rail Trail, formerly known as the Rails to Trails Recreational Path, is an approximately 10-mile recreational path and is currently under construction on the former Long Island Rail Road right of way, owned by the Long Island Power Authority. The trail runs from Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai to Wading River Manor Road in Wading River and parallels Route 25A. 

The North Shore Rail Trail from Mount Sinai to Wading River has leveled the land where the path is expected to go. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a release, Suffolk County Leg. Sarah Anker’s (D-Mount Sinai) office said that Suffolk County Department of Public Works and DF Stone Contracting have removed the topsoil from west to east along the trail path and will continue to grade the area and lay down the subbase within the upcoming months. DPW anticipates that it will begin laying down asphalt from west to east after April 15, weather permitting. Shrubbery has been removed to clear a handicap-accessible path at the Town of Brookhaven Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. The trail is estimated to be completed in the fall of 2021.

The project was first suggested over 50 years ago by local civic members and was reintroduced in 2001 by advocates of bicycle organizations, the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail and some community residents. The path is being funded by federal and state grants totaling close to $10 million, with a $500,000 match from Suffolk County. Suffolk County entered into a licensing agreement with LIPA to utilize the right of way for the trail. The engineering group NV5 was chosen by DPW to plan and design the trail.

In 2019, DPW approved DF Stone Contracting to construct the trail, reducing the cost of construction by approximately $2 million through the request-for-proposal process. The release said the county will work with the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department and New York State Department of Transportation for trail signage and lighting installation at road intersections. Maintenance of the trail will involve a partnership with not-for-profit organizations and Suffolk County Department of Parks. Suffolk County police and SCDP will provide law enforcement oversight for the trail.

People looking for more information can contact Anker’s office at 631-854-1600.

By Nancy Marr

In 1978 Suffolk County Planner Lee Koppelman suggested a trail along Long Island’s North Shore for hikers and bikers. Forty years later, as a result of the efforts of elected officials, community groups and individual citizens, funding for a trail from Mount Sinai to Wading River was approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, with plans to start construction in 2019. How do such ideas become reality in our communities?  

By the time the Setauket to Port Jefferson Greenway Trail (on 3½ miles of New York state land) was completed in 2014, its supporters had been trained in advocacy. With the Three Village Community Trust as overseer, local residents and organizations supported the trail, raised funds to supplement the state and federal grants and contributed labor to complete the trail. As the trail was being built, the civic associations, the Long Island Mountain Bicyclists and other nonprofits played a role. When they needed Department of Environmental Conservation approval to pass through the Lawrence Aviation property, they pushed to get it. 

Thus when the new Rails to Trails group needed “persons of interest” to attend official government meetings, or informed residents to speak at community meetings, skilled home-grown activists were well-established and ready to work together on this ambitious goal. But advocates also knew that they needed an engaged local elected official who could help navigate the system and secure government support. When Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) became a Suffolk County legislator in 2011, this trail became a legislative goal.

Anker got past her first roadblock when County Executive Steve Bellone (D) enthusiastically endorsed the idea of creating the trail along Route 25A. The second roadblock, property owner LIPA’s concern about liability, was removed when the county executive worked out an agreement to lease and maintain the property, creating a “linear park” that would be cared for by the Parks Department and the county police. Community opposition, however, mounted at the idea of losing privacy with strangers passing near homes along the trail. With the experienced help of Friends of the Greenway Chair Charles McAteer, county legislators organized public meetings to discuss residents’ concerns.  

When the Legislature voted on the request to bond the federal money (that will be paid back in grants) on July 17, so many supporters spoke positively that it passed with only one abstention. The federal funding that had been obtained in prior years by congressmen Felix Grucci and Tim Bishop was delayed until 2016 when Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) secured final approval of almost $10 million.  

The groundswell of support from the community and Anker’s continuing commitment will make the trail’s future secure. Working together, the legislator and the community overcame many obstacles to the establishment and funding of the trail in the past 7 years. This project serves as a strong case study for Suffolk County citizens in advocating, building community support for a grand idea, finding a legislative champion and working together to make it a reality.

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.

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Sarah Anker, the legislative chair of the opioid panel, said they too are concerned of increase in opioid overdoses. 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.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has called on residents to donate PPE for health care workers and first responders. File photo by Kyle Barr

Though the fight over lump bonding in the Suffolk County Legislature is not over yet, both parties are looking to find common ground.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the county would be offering un-lumped bond resolutions for the next legislative session July 17, after a series of bond-seeking bills for various projects were voted down on a party-line vote last month.

“Unfortunately we have seen the creeping into Suffolk County of national style politics that has delivered abuse in Washington – which is a shame because we haven’t had that in Suffolk, particularly when it comes to funding of critically important and even routine capital projects,” Bellone said. “I want to move us back towards the way we have operated in the past where we treat these kinds of important bonds in a nonpartisan way.”

Bellone mentioned several bond resolutions that will be up for vote come July 17. One includes funding for repaving on Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. Two other major projects include $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees, and $8.82 million in funds for the Rails to Trails project that will establish a trail from Wading River to Mount Sinai on grounds that used to host train tracks.

Ninety-four percent of Rails to Trails is funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the driving force behind the project, said if the bond doesn’t pass the county could miss the August deadline to get access to those federal grants.

“We have already invested $1 million with a design and engineering plan that we will have to reimburse if this bond does not pass,” Anker said. “We are ready to put a shovel in the ground, even at the end of this year.”

“I want to move us back towards the way we have operated in the past where we treat these kinds of important bonds in a nonpartisan way.”

— Steve Bellone

The legislature needs to vote “yes” on both an appropriations bill as well as one to approve bond funding to support capital projects, and for weeks the two parties in the legislature have battled over bundled bonds. Bellone has said the Republican minority was hypocritical if it voted for the project’s appropriations but voted against the funding. Republicans were against any lump bonds because they did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, lumped with items they were comfortable supporting now.

Because the legislature requires 12 of the 18 members to pass a bond vote, the seven-member Republican minority have joined together during the past two legislative meetings to shoot down any lump bonds.

Bellone said he would be going forward with legislation that would require both appropriations and bonding be included in one single vote, but Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the Legislative Counsel has questioned the legality of that idea, with appropriations requiring 10 votes and bonds needing 12.

Instead, Gregory said he instructed the county clerk to write up the next week’s meeting agenda to have bonds be voted on before appropriations.

“If the bond resolution fails then the appropriation doesn’t come up for a vote,” Gregory said. “It limits the opportunity for somebody to vote for it before voting against it … Hopefully it takes the politics a little bit out of it.”

Republicans in the legislature see the move away from lump bonding as a victory.

“We’re happy that the County Executive has agreed to go back to individual bond resolution for several bonds,” Minority Leader and Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said. “We’re looking forward to working forward with the County Executive over the coming months to find some common ground.”

Though Cilmi said he and other Republican legislators are happy the bonds will not be lumped together, he still has misgivings about a few of the projects, especially when it comes to county finances.

“There are certain proposals where we agree with the project, but we believe the funding for the project should come out of operating funds rather than going out and borrowing money to do it,” Cilmi said. “The county is $2 billion in debt, and we have to exercise restraint in how we go out and borrow money.”

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We were among those excited to hear the long-discussed 10-mile bike trail from Mount Sinai to Wading River Rails to Trails project finally seems to be getting off the ground.

With work expected to begin in spring 2019, the LIPA-owned property will be put to great community use with countless benefits for both locals and visitors to the area. We have heard complaints from residents whose properties abut the trail, and we’ve also heard of issues at other comparable trails on Long Island. It is
incumbent on the organizers of this project — Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), engineering firm NV5 and the county’s Department of Public Works — to not only hear but also act on resident concerns all along the way.

While we understand having a trail suddenly run through your backyard can be a disruptive new addition to a home with the potential to attract strangers, we would argue unused woods can also attract undesirable behaviors. This is not to say that steps shouldn’t be taken to buffer the trail from property lines. We are confident that an amicable compromise can be reached as long as residents’ concerns are truly taken into account.

The popular Long Island Greenbelt Trail, which is overseen by the nonprofit Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, is regularly in need of volunteers to help maintain and clean up the massive trail. To its credit, the group has a tab on its website where hikers can submit reports about issues or problems along the trail. Something like this would be great when the Mount Sinai-to-Wading River project is complete. Building a bike trail for residents and tourists alike to enjoy and utilize is great in theory, but maintaining it and keeping it vibrant is another project entirely. We would even propose the newly created chambers of commerce in each of the hamlets through which the trail runs divide the 10 miles and host quarterly cleanups.

We were also glad to hear mile markers will be included on the trail to make it easier for people in need of emergency assistance to let authorities know where on the trail they are located. We’d like to see something similar to what Cold Spring Harbor State Park implemented a few years ago to ensure safety for users of the trail. Suffolk County police officer James Garside helped develop and implement innovative GPS-enabled trail markers there, and since installation in 2017, a man who suffered a heart attack on the trail was saved thanks to the availability of his precise location.

We also hope this new trail is like the Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail in one specific way.

“From the 6th Precinct’s standpoint there haven’t been any spikes in burglaries or home invasions on the [Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail],” Community Oriented Police Enforcement unit Sgt. Walter Langdon said during a discussion about safety on the new trail. “With the right-of-ways, people can already access the rear of these houses. With more people on the trail, there’s more people to call 911. In a way, it’s safer.”

Projects for public good are always great by us, but keeping a neighbor-friendly status will require attention and work.

Public voices residual concerns following last year’s meetings

The Rails to Trails recreational path from Mount Sinai to Wading River will be built on old LIPA-owned right-of-way. File photo by Desirée Keegan

With the Rails to Trails bike path another step closer to completion, many residents are still shouting “not in my backyard.”

At a meeting inside Shoreham-Wading River High School’s cafeteria March 27, locals repeated concerns about privacy and security for homes adjacent to the trail.

“They say it’s going to be scenic, but where I’m from, you’re literally six feet from somebody’s fence — what’s scenic about that?” Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz said, pointing to the satellite maps that detailed the path the 10-mile trail from Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai to Wading River Manor Road in Wading River would take. Her property would have only a few yards of buffer from the trail. “If I had trees behind my property I wouldn’t care that much, but I have little kids, I have a tiny dog that’s going to go nuts.”

Residents were able to view satellite maps of the trail at a meeting at Shoreham-Wading River High School March 27, to see where homes will sit along the trail. Photo by Kyle Barr

The current timeline of the trail 30 years in the making shows final design plans will be submitted to the New York State Department of Transportation May 1, and a final approval is anticipated to be received in October. The county would receive construction bits in the fall with groundbreaking expected to begin in Spring 2019 and end in Fall 2020. The total cost of construction is estimated to be $8.8 million, $500,000 of which will come from Suffolk County, and the rest from federal funds, according to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).

“The vision in my mind is an eco-tourism hub,” Anker said. “They can visit the Tesla museum, they can go into downtown Rocky Point, which really needs more passive traffic, they can stop in shops all the way into Mount Sinai.”

The plan does not include building fences around properties that don’t already have them. Privacy was a major point of concern for Rocky Point resident Gary Savickas.

“I have a 7-foot fence on my property, and with how high the trail will be, I will have people looking over my fence,” he said. “I would have to build a 30-foot fence if I wanted to keep eyes off my yard. I think we can spend that $8 million differently.”

Anker said she hopes to procure additional funding through local civic organizations for fences and shrubbery to help with privacy issues and added she and her team hope to be able to meet the privacy needs of the community while the trail along the LIPA-owned property, formerly an old railroad line, is being built.

“A lot of folks have converged on the right-of-ways with structures, with fencing, with pools, and what we’re going to do is work around them,” she said. “We’re going to veer the trail as far around those structures as possible.”

The 10-mile trail will run from Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai to Wading River Manor Road in Wading River. Image from Suffolk County

Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe President Jane Alcorn said she’s all for anything that will bring more attention to Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory.

“We see it as another link to the site,”  she said. “We hope that it will bring something positive to these communities.”

The pitch inside the cafeteria grew loud as residents grouped in circles discussed the pros and cons of the trail, and asked questions to representatives from Suffolk County Department of Public Works and engineering company NV5.

Rocky Point resident Bob Lacorte has biked through Rails to Trails paths in several other states, and said it’s normal for trails to cut close to people’s property.

“I’m still for them,” he said. “It’s for people who want to safely ride their bikes. My property doesn’t back up to [where the trail will be located], but honestly, I don’t know how I’d feel if that was my property.”

Many people, like Lacorte enjoyed the idea of a safe space for kids to walk or bicycle.

“You want people to feel safe with their kids, it’s going to be a safe place to encourage people to bicycle,” said Michael Vitti, president of advocacy group Concerned Long Island Mountain Bikers. “You want to get kids involved in a healthy outdoor activity, but you don’t want them to feel unsafe on the street. This will be a traffic-free space.”

The trail will be 10-feet wide and split up into two lanes separated by a yellow line. Markers will indicate where along the trail a person is to help emergency personnel locate someone in the need of assistance. Image from Suffolk County

The double-laned, 10-foot-wide trail will be split in half by a yellow line. Features will include kiosks at trailheads, quarter-mile markers and railing when the trail meets an incline. Where the path intersects with high-traffic roads, there will be flashing yellow signs to signal those using the trails to stop, and warnings on the street side for drivers to be wary, said Daniel Loscalzo, senior civil engineer for NV5.

Rocky Point Fire Chief Mike Yacubich said all his original complaints about the trail had been addressed, specifically the road markers, which will help emergency personnel quickly locate someone in need of emergency assistance.

“I think that it is a very nice idea — I like the positive things they are saying it’s going to bring into the community,” he said. “They have addressed some of our concerns as responders, we just need the community to be vigilant to make sure that nobody is hanging out there after dusk.”

Members of the Suffolk County Police Department also spoke to residents about concerns of drugs, home invasions and the use of ATVs. Officers referenced the nearby Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, using it as an example to show how little no incidents have occurred along the 11-mile trail.

“From the 6th Precinct’s standpoint there hasn’t been any spikes in burglaries or home invasions on the [Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail],” Community Oriented Police Officer Enforcement unit Sergeant Walter Langdon said. “With the right-of-ways people can already access the rear of these houses. With more people on the trail, there’s more people to call 911. In a way, it’s safer.”