I appreciate the efforts the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road have taken to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and to work with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on this proposal. Given the potential impact on the local communities surrounding the site, it is imperative that a thorough, straightforward and comprehensive process unfold.
I commend the LIRR for their outreach to my office and for its courtesy in arranging for inspection of the yards in Port Jefferson and Ronkonkoma. I can say that personal observation has certainly allayed some of the fears that have been expressed by residents.
Nevertheless, as I noted at the previous hearing, I stand as a representative of the entire Township of Smithtown and suggest that I would rather see the yard somewhere else. As a member of the state Legislature, I do not feel that it is appropriate to short-circuit this process. I remind everyone that the schedule for ongoing public outreach on this important issue extends two more years, through December of 2005. That is time to make our feelings known and find an appropriate site beyond Smithtown.
Before my election to the New York state Assembly, many times in my fifteen years on the Smithtown Town Council, our longtime Supervisor Patrick Vecchio urged those before us on town matters to let the appropriate process take its course. I urge our citizens to similarly allow this process to unfold, just as I urge them to make their concerns known.
Already, critical concerns about traffic burdens, environmental dangers, and other quality-of-life issues have been reasonably and specifically raised. Please be assured, I am listening to, and will be guided by, those concerns.
At the risk of oversimplifying the matter before the MTA and the local community, there are two essential questions before us: First, is there truly a need for an electric storage rail yard along the Port Jefferson Branch? Second, if the need exists, where is the most appropriate site?
As to need, it is not just a whim by the railroad. Major organizations with a broad scope and interest, such as the Long Island Association, have come down in full support of a yard, without determining any particular location for the most appropriate site. Their support is based upon the goal of a modern transportation infrastructure to support the economy of Nassau and Suffolk counties.
The question of need is a broad one. It is not just about the commuters and other rail road riders who embark from the platforms in our township, although those residents are of special concern to me. It is about the creation of a modern transportation system, beyond just rush hour commuting. It is about being able to encourage and expand our local growth and economic opportunities on Long Island, as well as exploiting our proximity to New York City.
Still, this process should provide the facts for the public to determine that the need exists, and justifies the potential impact of a yard in a given site.
If we expect to reduce pollution by getting people out of their cars, we must have transportation alternatives in place.
We all recognize that we live on an island, a fact of geography that imposes certain choices and restrictions upon us. For reasons of economic and environmental necessity, we must take steps to move to modern mass transit to get beyond the days of bumper-to-bumper, one driver, one car traffic. Modernization of the Long Island Rail Road is certainly a vital part of meeting our future needs.
Nevertheless, the MTA and the LIRR must look beyond the Huntington/Smithtown corridor. The real growth is to the east. I believe we should look as far to the future as we can, and push forward to electrifying the entire length of the Port Jefferson Branch.
By doing so, we mitigate the temporary nature of a yard, when the long-term goal is electrification. We mitigate a yard placed awkwardly, halfway along a line still needing diesel trains to reach the end of that line. We also expand the number of potential sites for the yard.
As part of this process, we must look at the potential of using the existing diesel yard, although not sufficient as a replacement for the new yard, in conjunction with a site to be acquired for the appropriate space to meet the future needs.
I commit to my constituents and the MTA that I will work wholeheartedly on the state level and, together with officials at all levels, to fight for the necessary funding to complete the electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch – and to finding an appropriate site beyond Smithtown.