Op Ed: Eric Alexander 2-16

Latest Big Projects Need Full Input from Public

While folks have been recovering from the holidays and grappling with snow, proposals have come forward for a plethora of needed infrastructure projects and predictions for housing growth.

Manhattan based regional planners presented ideas for more housing development on Long Island. Their projected need over the next 15 years range from 115,000 to 158,000 new residential units. They believe that 64,000 units (roughly half of them single family homes) are already in the pipeline. None of the estimates account for the existing or future illegal housing stock which is near impossible to quantify. It will be interesting to see if the local market follows these predictions

Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined his priorities for some of the $550 million in economic development and infrastructure funds secured in last year’s budget cycle

The best news was the support for the Bay Park outfall pipe which is a priority of the LI Lobby Coalition and needs to happen for the environmental and economic benefit of Nassau’s South Shore.

Good news also on the reopening of the East Farmingdale station, expansion of Macarthur Airport, expanded parking at the Ronkonkoma HUB and study for a Cross Sound Tunnel.

One of the most challenging was the resuscitation of the needed MTA third track proposal which was defeated 8 years ago due to poor planning, presentation and massive community opposition all along the rail line.

Lastly, unknown to everyone out here, the Federal Rail Administration has proposed a high speed rail through Long Island.

Community reaction has been mixed as some proposals like Bay Park outfall pipes and locally guided transit oriented development are moving forward with wide support.

Plans like the Federal Rail Administration’s high speed rail proposal conducted without the input of local municipalities, residents, business owners — the true decision makers in our region — are a waste of money. Worse is that they decrease the public trust in other legitimate efforts advancing innovative projects.

What is a surprise to no one is that a movement to support local projects has created changes across Long Island. Currently there are over 11,000 units of approved Transit Oriented Development with roughly 20,000 units in the planning process. Strategic thinking is needed when you release these sorts of regional plans and predictions.

In nearly 20 years of working with communities on difficult projects here are some successful themes we have learned:

1. The project need should include the economic and environmental benefits for the region and the local communities impacted by the proposal.

2. Provide clear and tangible public benefits to the host communities who have to bear the burden

3. Outreach to municipalities, local businesses, residents and property owners needs to commence in a transparent fashion

4. For public infrastructure the economics of the lead agency needs to be more transparent so folks see the project moves efficiently without the wasted dollars and delays that may have plagued past efforts

5. Don’t try to take power away from local communities. It was good to see that there are no new attempts at weakening municipal home rule.

In essence we need to move from a “not in my backyard” reaction but instead to a “how does this project help my back yard, our community and the region?”

What will aide some of these proposals moving forward is the hard work over the past decade from local officials, business owners and civic organizations that have embraced many projects in downtowns across Long Island.  For the needed regional initiatives that are in the public interest we hope and trust that these true decision makers are partners in advancing them. There may not be much to talk about if they are not.

– Vision Long Island Director Eric Alexander