Proving public opinion is still a force to reckoned with when it comes to policymaking, a plan to redirect 3,000 heavy freight trucks per year from Interstate 95 in Connecticut to the North Fork via the Cross Sound Ferry has been dropped fewer than six weeks after Orient residents noticed it and protested the plan.
During a March 14 meeting of the Orient Association, dozens of residents met to publicly decry the plan, known as the Cross Sound Enhancement Project. It was contained in a section of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s Regional Freight Plan.
The Orient community’s vocal opposition continued at an April 22 NYMTC public hearing on the matter.
Their outcry rallied local, county, state and federal officials to pressure the state to revise the proposal. And on Thursday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office announced all references to the Cross Sound Enhancement Project had been removed from the plan.
“This has been an amazing example what an engaged community is capable of doing,” said deputy county executive Jon Schneider. “The fact is, this Cross Sound Enhancements Project was a footnote that was buried in a highly technical document. You never know when things get buried like that.
“If not for an engaged community, it is very possible this footnote could have remained in this document and at some point down the line some policymaker in Connecticut could have used this as the basis to move forward with something that anyone who is familiar with roads on the East End knows to be an absolutely terrible idea.”
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, who attended the March 14 meeting to voice his opposition to the plan, also commended the public Thursday for raising the issue.
“It wasn’t just about them changing peoples’ minds, it was about … having people pay notice to it to get it removed rather than just overlooked,” Mr. Russell said.
Orient Association president Bob Hanlon said he was “delighted” by the news.
“We are especially thankful,” Mr. Hanlon said. “We had a very large turnout at the public meetings on this, as well as people taking part online to universally voice strong opposition and concern.”
Still, there is more work to be done, he said.
The proposal is still outlined in a U.S. Department of Transportation’s freight plan. Though that plan is currently stalled, lacking funding to continue, Mr. Hanlon said residents are still working with federal politicians to remove any mention of diverting trucks en masse from I-95 and onto the ferries and the North Fork.
“While it is not active at the moment, our concern is that if it is left on the books at some point, when funding does become available, it might then resurface and we will be facing the same set of problems,” he said. “We are calling on our elected officials, in particular our federal elected officials, to help us work to have this project completely eliminated.”
Mr. Schneider assured that Mr. Bellone, for one, “would do anything he can to make sure this legislation never sees the light of day.”
Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has already come out against the proposal in the NYMTC’s freight plan and said he would continue to block the proposal on the federal level.
“As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, as well as working directly with United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Maritime Administer Paul Jaenichen, I will fight to take this project off of the list of Maritime Administration Marine Highway Programs, ensuring this misguided idea is done away with once and for all,” Mr. Zeldin said in a statement Thursday evening. “The Cross Sound Ferry from Orient Point to New London, CT is an essential part of the East End tourist economy, but it was never meant to carry large trucks, nor was Route 25 ever meant to be a highway clogged with trucks.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 7:30p.m. Thursday to reflect Congressmen Zeldin’s comments.