A final push to keep Riverside traffic circle on track

The Riverside traffic circle is expected to be reconfigured, though it's not sure when. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
The Riverside traffic circle is expected to be reconfigured, though it’s not sure when. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Funding that had been slated to reconfigure the Riverside traffic circle is now in danger of being diverted next year. But a movement is afoot to keep that money in place.

The infrastructure project is one that some say is critical to the hamlet’s future, particularly at a time when other efforts are in the works to improve quality of life in the economically distressed area of Southampton Town.

Suffolk County’s budget that oversees and prioritizes capital improvement projects had suggested last year that $4 million be dedicated in 2016 (see pg. 310 in last year’s capital budget) for the project. However, the capital budget released on May 15 calls for not only pushing funding for the construction back until 2018, but also pushing the cost of the project up to $5.5 million.

Counting interest, over the life span of an 18-year bond the work is expected to cost $7.7 million.

Despite the fact that a land swap was approved by Southampton Town voters last fall to allow for a reconfiguration of the traffic circle, the difference in cost still cites $1.5 million in “land acquisition” costs (see pg. 292 in the capital budget report) in addition to the original $4 million price tag.

But South Fork Legislator, and Deputy Presiding Officer of the Legislature, Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said on Thursday that, “there is no need for land acquisition. Everything is in the county right-of-way.” He had expressed concern as early as February, however, that delays in the project could be a problem.

Now, he said he is attempting to secure support to move funding for the project back to its original timeline. Most importantly, he said, he is looking for support from his fellow East End legislator in Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) — particularly since the project is so vital to downtown Riverhead.

“We often say it’s 16 against two in the legislature,” said Mr. Schneiderman, referring to the fact that only two legislators represent the entire five East End towns. “But lately, I’ve been feeling like it’s 17 against one.”

But Mr. Krupski said he hasn’t dismissed the idea.

“It’s a process,” he said on Thursday. “So, it’s not like it’s not being considered … This is a project that has great value, there’s no question about it. And it’s important. However, it should be taken in the context of the whole county.”

The capital budgets are annually laid out in three-year timespans to allow planning of future projects, and are compiled by the county executive. After a couple of public hearings, the Budget Review Office of the County Legislature makes amendments if necessary, and then the county legislature then creates a “working group” to consider the budget. Following several meetings of the capital budget working group, amendments are filed and eventually voted on by the entire legislature. The deadline to file amendments is today.

Robert Lipp, director of the Budget Review Office, stated that the two main goals of the capital budget fall into two categories: nitrogen reduction and economic development. Over $350 million is expected to be spent next year on nitrogen reduction projects, with no main projects slated for the East End. Another $33 million is expected to be spent on economic development next year.

“This is a major infrastructure improvement that’s needed now and very much needed for future development,” said Sean McLean, a Flanders resident. Mr. McLean is also the vice president of planning and development with the for-profit Renaissance Downtowns, which recently presented plans to Southampton Town to redevelop Riverside surrounding the traffic circle. The company suggested several incentives and zoning proposals which, he said, hinge on two things.

“Wastewater treatment and traffic are the two major issues in this development,” he said.

The county did commit $2 million for sewer planning in its capital budget for 2016. But waiting on the traffic circle could hold up private investment significantly, he said, since property owners won’t know for sure that new — and easier — traffic patterns will be forthcoming anytime soon.

Mr. McLean added that the plan to push funding for the project back two years essentially got “lost in the shuffle” while his company was in the middle of creating and presenting its own plan. Now, Renaissance Downtowns has started an online petition to lobby members of the working group to keep the funds in place for 2016. 

“Not appropriating fund for the year 2016 derails revitalization efforts for the most socioeconomically distressed community in Suffolk County,” stated the petition, which had 210 online signatures as of last night.