In early January, the kids with Project Bus Stop were frustrated and tired of waiting for the various levels of government to come through and build the bus shelters for which they had spent three years advocating.
Then, a little more than three weeks later, they finally got some relief when news came that Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski had submitted a formal request to build six new bus shelters, including four in Southold Town.
Now, the kids are back to feeling frustrated: More than seven months have now passed since January and there are still no bus shelters, no updates and virtually no communication from any government members.
“It kind of makes you feel that small government or even government in general is just broken,” said Greenport High School senior and Project Bus Stop member Thomas Spackman. “We did stuff that the government should have done and it still didn’t happen. It feels like they’re not doing work or not trying at all.”
The Project Bus Stop kids are all high school seniors now — except for one who began college this month — and they’re concerned the project will not see completion before they pack up and leave the North Fork.
On Sept. 6, they sent a letter to representatives at the town, county and state level, and to The Suffolk Times, expressing frustration and demanding a remedy for the delay. Since then, members say they have not received a single reply.
Mr. Krupski acknowledged that his office received an email from Project Bus Stop, but that “sometimes, there’s nothing to report.”
Project Bus Stop, which has its roots as a youth group associated with First Universalist Church of Southold, began a campaign more than three years ago to have bus shelters installed at certain locations on Route 25 within Southold Town.
Those shelters, they say, would prevent bus riders from enduring the elements — from the excruciating heat of summer to the suffocating chill of winter — while waiting long periods of time for public transportation to arrive.
“It’s far from insignificant,” said Mattituck High School senior Sam Shaffrey. “There are a lot of people that ride the bus in Southold. It’s a really good way to get around.”
The kids used a variety of tactics to gain momentum for their project, including a photo campaign documenting bus riders and a petition. In January, they demonstrated on the side of Main Road — holding signs that read “Winter is coming,” Sam said — where they say shelters are needed.
“[The lack of shelters] is also an insult to the poorer population around here, like if you don’t have a car, they don’t care about you,” said Mattituck High School senior John Batuello.
Since the beginning, Project Bus Stop members say, government members have received the idea well, but have failed to back it up with any action.
“It feels like they’re belittling us,” said Ethan Sisson, a Southold High School senior. “They’re all saying, ‘Yes, we’re ready to do it,’ and then it just doesn’t happen.”
Mr. Krupski said he wants the shelters to be installed — he was the one who submitted the request for their construction — but he noted there are “many different layers” to such a project that cause delays. In fact, he said, the county had been seeking a contractor to build the shelters before the project was held up at the state level.
In August, Mr. Krupski said, the state Department of Transportation discussed the project at a meeting but could not arrive at a resolution. Suffolk County Department of Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson then sent a letter to the state — a letter that referenced Project Bus Stop by name — but has not yet heard back, according to Mr. Krupski.
“We’re working within the confines of the system at this point,” Mr. Krupski said. “You send a letter to the state and wait for an answer.”
One problem that has proved to be a speed bump, he said, is the installation of crosswalks. The state wants crosswalks to be installed on Route 25 with the prospective bus shelters, but they pose another safety hazard.
“Crosswalks there are dangerous because people are given a false sense of security,” Mr. Krupski said. “They think that they can just step out to the street and cars will stop. If you’re in a hamlet or a village, people go slow. If you’re outside of those, it’ll be a surprise because there’s suddenly a crosswalk.”
A particular frustration for the group is that bus shelters have been installed recently along Route 27 on the South Fork and near the intersection of Route 58 and Northville Turnpike in Riverhead.
So now, it’s back to “making noise” for these kids — at least until they see some change.
“We have to start annoying them again,” Thomas said. “The only thing left is to bother them until they get it done.”
Photo Caption: A group of North Fork students have spent years working on a project to add bus shelters along the Main Road, including this spot in Cutchogue. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)