The Southold Town board took steps Tuesday to support a state bill aimed at creating long-term transportation solutions for the East End.
The bill would create the Peconic Bay Regional Transporation Authority, and would work to provide transportation alternatives that could exist beyond the Long Island Railroad.
According to Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, the vision for long-term tranportation alternatives began with the Sustainable East End Development Strategies initiative, pitched by the East End Transportation Council in the 1990s as a way to seek transportation options on the East End, where a lack of reliable public transportation has long frustrated residents.
SEEDS, Russell said, was spearheaded by Tom Neely in Southampton. "The original plan favored the South Fork because they have the infrastructure to support trains," throughout the entire town, he said. "Here, the train stops at Greenport, before the end of the town. "It's not conducive to hamlet growth."
Instead, Russell said, a request was made for an alternate plan for a "hybrid" system including trains and shuttle buses, that would more adequately suit the needs of the entire East End, including the North Fork.
Next, Russell said, came the Volpe study, a plan for a coordinated rail-bus network, which would cost approximately $160 million per year, Russell said.
Monies could be gleaned, he said, if the MTA agreed to cede its assets or earnings in the area. "That's a big stumbling block," he said. "The MTA will never cede its assets or earnings."
Councilman Chris Talbot said train ridership on the South Fork is "tremendous," compared to the North Fork.
Councilwoman Louisa Evans asked what the value to the Town of Southold would be, to sit on the Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Authority and said at least, the town could "watch out for its interests."
"The value is, we get very modest to no public transportation now," Russell said. "This new regional authority could provide better public transporation. We need better public transporation."
Russell said offering home rule support of the new regional authority just "allows us to be at the table, a constant reminder that the North Fork is here."
Russell reminded that Southold's presence in the discussion resulted in the Volpe study's including a look at North Fork needs.
Councilman Bill Ruland, who said he is a self-professed "cynic," reminded that the Long Island Rail Road "stopped the trains" to the North Fork. "The MTA is in win-win situation," he said. "The more people drive, the more they benefit." The MTA, he said, "is sucking money out of everyone's pockets for everything. If they don't provide service, the are winning."
Ruland said he'd favor an expansion of the county's S-92 bus line, which could serve the public far better with "a few simple refinements."
For example, Ruland has said he has raised the idea in the past of having the bus stop at the train station in Southold, but was told the bus can't make a right turn and stays on Route 25.
"That's ridiculous," Ruland said, adding that in Riverhead, the bus turns at the County Center. "How can you say you don't go off Route 25 when you can easily make it easier for people?"
Talbot said he has spoken to at least one shopkeeper who lives in Cutchogue who told hm that they would frequent the bus and never drive a car if there as a more reliable bus schedule.
Ruland said whenver the county raises bus fare, "there's a human cry," but asked how much it costs to use a car.
The councilman added that although he has only been on a subway "but two times" in his life, said he has been educated about the benefits of public transportation by Southold's special projects director Phillip Beltz.
"We need to be less reliant on vehicles," Talbot said.
"That's the future," Ruland agreed.
The board agreed to pass a hometown rule message in support of the Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Authority.