Are 3,000 more heavy freight trucks headed our way?

Trucks, trucks and more trucks.

A plan by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council that could recommend redirecting 3,000 heavy freight trucks per year from I-95 in Connecticut to the North Fork via the Cross Sound Ferry has Orient residents up in arms. 

Especially since the freight management plan could be approved without a local public hearing.

“This plan is off everyone’s radar,” said Orient Association president Robert Hanlon, who has scheduled a March 14 meeting of his organization to discuss the proposal. “If not for one person alerting us to it, no one would have known. Yet this could have a significant impact on our roads.”

The language in the proposal that has Orient residents concerned is in a section of the plan titled “marine highways.” It lists several projects that could alleviate freight congestion on New York metropolitan roadways by sending trucks along waterways, including the Cross Sound Enhancement Project. Sponsored in 2012 by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the U.S. Maritime Administration project proposed, in part, to improve three ferry boats to allow for a 25 percent increase in truck capacity, increasing the annual number of trucks traveling from New London to Orient to an estimated 15,000 per year. Those trucks would then travel across routes 25 and 48 to the Long Island Expressway in Riverhead.

Mr. Hanlon said he fears that if the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council approves its Freight Management Plan as currently proposed, it could pave the way for implementation of the Cross Sound Enhancement Project down the line.

“It sets a policy goal for the region for what legislators can do [in the future],” Mr. Hanlon said of the Freight Management Plan, likening it to the comprehensive plan Southold Town officials have been working on. He worries that in future years such a document could be viewed as local approval from 2015, when, in reality, the issue has not been discussed locally.

Cross Sound Ferry spokesman Stan Mickus said there are currently no plans in the works to improve ferry capacity. He said the only element of the Cross Sound Enhancement Project completed to date entailed repowering three auto ferries for lower emissions and cleaner burning engines. He said he was not aware of the details of NYMTC’s Freight Management Plan.

The NYMTC, which describes itself as “the metropolitan planning organization for New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley,” is hosting a public hearing on its plan March 18, but that hearing is taking place in New York City. The public comment period on the proposal closes March 31, according to the planning organization’s website.

The Connecticut State DOT said in 2012 that rerouting 3,000 trucks to the New London and Orient Ferry terminals would save 500,000 truck miles per year, leading to a reduction in emissions and infrastructure maintenance savings.

But how does such a plan help the North Fork of Long Island? Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) says not at all.

“I have some very deep concerns with the Cross Sound Enhancement Project,” Mr. Zeldin said in a statement Monday. “This plan is ill advised as it obviously fails to properly assess the North Fork’s road system. The North Fork is not designed to support this diversion of I-95 corridor traffic and I will work hard to prevent this scheme from unfolding to the detriment of my constituents.”

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said planning staff is currently reviewing the NYMTC’s proposal and he’s also checking with the town’s transportation committee to see if it’s weighed in on the plan in the past. He also said counsel is reviewing if such ferry service expansion is outside the scope of any past agreements.

“I anticipate having more information in the coming days,” he said.

Both Mr. Russell and a representative from Mr. Zeldin’s staff are expected to attend the Saturday, March 14, Orient Association meeting at 10 a.m. inside Poquatuck Hall.

Mr. Hanlon said the Orient Association has not yet taken a position on this issue, but could do so at Saturday’s meeting. He said civic members plan to attend the March 18 hearing in New York City.

Mr. Hanlon said it’s the lack of information about the Freight Management Plan and its potential impact on the North Fork that has him so concerned.

“I’m very prejudiced being that I live on Main Road in Orient,” he said. “But I can tolerate the amount of trucks now. I don’t want to see any more.”

[email protected]

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 5 p.m. March 10 to include comment from the Cross Sound Ferry.