Shock. Delight. Relief.
That’s how members of Project Bus Stop, a youth group dedicated to creating new bus shelters across the North Fork, are feeling this week after their long battle with bureaucratic red tape has paid off.
Last week, seemingly overnight, their goal was finally realized: two bus shelters, the first of seven across the North Fork, were installed without fanfare or celebration.
“It was so sudden,” said Sam Shaffery, a Mattituck High School senior who’s been involved in Project Bus Stop from the beginning. “When you work for something for four years, you don’t expect it to get done in an afternoon with no notice. We were shocked and we were completely delighted.”
When the youth group, from Southold’s First Universalist Church, decided in late 2012 to work on a civic engagement project, installing new bus shelters seemed like a no-brainer.
The group — which they named Project Bus Stop — thought the solution would be an easy fix, something they could focus on for a year to make a simple, positive change in their hometown. Residents waiting for public transit would be protected from rain or poor weather and the project had the backing of elected officials across Southold Town.
Despite their best efforts, however, the founders of Project Bus Stop couldn’t find success. For most of their high school careers, group members met constantly and tried to wrangle support for the shelters from state, county and local authorities.
Some members, seniors on the cusp of graduation, had started to give up hope that the shelters would be built while they were still in school.
“It just seems unbelievable to try as much as we did and have nothing budge,” Sam said.
The teens didn’t even know the new bus shelters had been installed until one Project Bus Stop advisers learned from his wife that a shelter in Mattituck had been completed. That shelter was erected Monday in front of the CVS on the south side of Main Road, just a few feet from the bus stop. By Wednesday, a second shelter had appeared along the same route on Main Road in downtown Cutchogue.
“I was just astounded,” said Ethan Sisson, a Southold High School senior. “Everyone was freaking out. Everyone was so excited.”
While it was frustrating to see so little progress for so many years, Ethan said, he never gave up hope that the group would ultimately succeed.
“It’s really showing what a democracy is,” he said. “We get to have a say in our government. Though it took a little while, it got done and we had the freedom to express that need. Everyone actually listened to us and we managed to get something done.”
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who worked with the students to get the shelters installed, said the delays were caused by layers of procedures as county bus systems and transit officials coordinated with the state Department of Transportation.
“There’s a big county and there’s a lot of moving parts,” he said. “The important part is that [the bus shelters] are there.”
Mr. Krupski said five more shelters are on the way: two will be built near the King Kullen shopping center on Main Road in Cutchogue, two will be placed along Route 25 in Calverton, near the cemetery, and a final shelter will be built across from Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. on Main Road in Peconic. Those shelters will be installed in the fall, he said.
The first shelters were installed quickly because workers didn’t need to pour concrete, Mr. Krupski said. He credited the students for their dedication.
“It’s a real good lesson for them to be involved in government,” Mr. Krupski said. “They should be very proud of that.”
Mark Sisson, an adviser for Project Bus Stop and Ethan’s uncle, was proud, too.
“It was quite exciting,” Mr. Sisson said. “They haven’t crafted a letter yet thanking Al Krupski, but that’s high on the agenda.”
Mr. Sisson said he’s been impressed by how the teens have matured; all of them have given public speeches about the project.
“As time went by, it was very interesting to see them bringing ideas to the table about what we could do next or how we could get people involved,” he said. “It was interesting watching them become more comfortable speaking to adults about things they care about, how confident and in control they became.”
The students had planned months ago to rally May 1 and urge authorities to build the shelters. Now they’ll be changing the tone of the rally to celebrate their success.
It might be understandable if the students were sick of civic life, having seen their efforts go unrewarded for so long. But since that persistence has paid off, they say they’re looking forward to new projects.
Ethan wants to build a community garden on the North Fork or at his college next. Sam says that while he’s “not going to be running for supervisor any time soon,” Project Bus Stop has taught him the importance of being an active citizen of his town.
“I’ll stay involved in whatever community I land in,” Sam said. “It’s incredibly important and here, we’ve made a difference. And I’m really proud of that.”
On Monday, Jesus Ramires of Greenport was waiting for the 4:30 p.m. bus at the new shelter in Mattituck after running some errands. He’s been a regular rider on the North Fork route for more than five years.
The 21-year-old said in the past he’s been stuck in the snow and rain waiting for the bus. Now he’s glad to see the new shelter and happy to have a place for parents to sit with their children.
“It’s going to be much better,” he said. “This will be very helpful.”
Photos: Top: Myra Ramirez grabs the 4:30 bus in Mattituck to go home to Greenport at 4:30 last Thursday after work (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch). Left: Standing, from left: Vivienne Glasser, Southold; Thomas Spackman, Greenport; Gwyn Foley, Cutchogue; John Batuello, Cutchogue; Connor Morrison, Greenport. Kneeling: Ethan Sisson, Southold, left; Sam Shaffery, Cutchogue, right. Not shown: Ashley Alexander, Southold (Katharine Schroeder file photo).