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Mar 10, 2010 10:49 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Public decries proposed cuts to LIRR service on East End

Mar 10, 2010 10:49 AM

Anger over a plan that will effectively end railroad service to the North Fork starting this fall boiled over at a hearing in Riverhead on Monday night, at which dozens of people lined up to excoriate Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials for three hours.

The Suffolk County Legislative Auditorium at the County Center was jammed with more than 100 people on the evening of March 8, with some crowding the back of the room and others turned away at the door. More than 50 East End and Brookhaven Town residents, public officials and business owners stood before a panel of six MTA representatives—including MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder, Long Island Rail Road President Helena Williams and MTA Deputy Executive Christopher Boylan—and decried a series of recent decisions by the agency that oversees the LIRR.

Local politicians at all levels of government have been speaking out against the MTA with increasing intensity in recent months, following two recent developments: a new payroll tax passed by Albany last May that was designed to help the MTA close a $400 million budget shortfall, and a January proposal by the MTA to stop virtually all train service on its Greenport line, and cancel one peak train that now runs between Queens and the South Fork

“In my family growing up we had an expression called ‘chutzpah,’” Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk said to MTA officials in attendance Monday night. “You have just raised $100 million in new taxes on our small business, and at the same time you are proposing service cuts. That gives ‘chutzpah’ a whole new meaning.”

The six MTA officials sat at the end of a table located at the front of the auditorium, with security guards separating them from the public. The agency’s representatives did not make themselves available for comment after the three-hour hearing that ended around 9 p.m. MTA representatives did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

Instead, the six MTA officials in attendance Monday looked on, occasionally jotting down notes, as speaker after speaker called for the transportation agency to repeal its new payroll tax and maintain—or even increase—train service on the East End.

The payroll tax, which went into effect in September, now requires that employers operating in the 12 counties near New York City, including Suffolk County, pay 34 cents on every $100 in employee wages, with the revenues supporting the MTA. In February, Governor David Paterson announced that he will seek to decrease the payroll tax to 17 cents per $100 for employers outside New York City, including those in Suffolk County, while raising it to 54 cents per $100 for employers within the five boroughs. That proposal would require the approval of the State Legislature sometime this spring, along with the rest of the 2010-11 state budget.

In a statement made at the hearing Monday night, Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine charged that the MTA has disregarded suggestions and plans by Suffolk politicians in recent years to increase ridership in their districts.

“You did everything you could to suppress ridership on the East End,” he said. “And now you come to us and you say despite the fact that Suffolk County pays $525 million in fees and taxes each and every year, you are about to take a saw and cut off the middle branch, the main line, from Ronkonkoma east.

“Stop taxing us for transportation you do not provide,” Mr. Romaine concluded, to cheers and applause. “It has to end. You have failed as a public agency.”

The proposed closing of the Greenport line will save the MTA an estimated $991,000 in 2011, according to the transportation agency. That cut, combined with other reductions of services to the west, are expected to save the agency $6.3 million in 2010 and $11 million in 2011.

The MTA also estimates that it will save $396,000 a year by canceling, also starting this fall, a 4:30 p.m. peak train that runs from Hunters Point Avenue in Queens to Montauk. That train would be made available again on Fridays during the summer months, according to the MTA. It is the only train serving the South Fork that will be eliminated under the proposal.

The Riverhead public hearing almost did not occur. In January, when the MTA first unveiled its plan to eliminate trains throughout the greater New York City area, the nearest public hearing to the East End was slated to be held in Carle Place, Nassau County. But the agency answered calls by elected officials from throughout Suffolk County for a hearing to be held closer to the East End.

State Assemblyman Marc Alessi, who represents the North Fork, also appeared in person at the hearing. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy sent a representative, while New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., both of whom represent the South Fork, also sent representatives from their respective offices.

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Isn't it about time that we had a train from the Hamptons to Riverhead? Montauk to Riverhead? How about a connection from there to Connecticut and points north? Why are we stuck in one spot? It's like the 1800's out here when you talk about transportation. Even an old-fashioned stagecoach would be an improvement.
By 708ditch (5), montauk on Mar 12, 10 12:31 PM
I took my first "real" vacation to St. Thomas a few years ago.

I had to take a 1 A.M. train out of Southampton, so I could catch a 7:30 A.M. flight out of Kennedy. Even then, when seeking transportation to the city for an excursion, I found the transportation almost useless.

Now they want to reduce it?

For starters, how about you reduce some of the ridiculous salaries these idiots running the show receive as "compensation", and let the people have dependable public transportation?

The ...more
By Mr. Z (11412), North Sea on Mar 12, 10 2:18 PM
When the businessmen first thought of a railroad on Long Island back in 1830's the Main Objective was to build rail lines out to Greenport!!
The idea was to shorten travel to New England. Where the tracks end now in Greenport was also the site of the ferry slip.
The East End has always been the neglected orphan in whatever subject you want to discuss.
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Mar 12, 10 5:13 PM
Why does it take the same amount of time to get from Manhattan to Greenport today as it did in the 1800's?!
If we had more frequent service I could hop a train at Yaphank with a bike pass, bike to my sisters house in Southold, enjoy Greenport and Shelter Island without spending time and money on gasoline.
Greenport is also within easy biking distance of Orient State Park (OOOPS, wait, I forgot, the state wants to close Orient State Park.
Where is my tax money going besides tobail out ...more
By oneseriousSicilian (61), medford on Mar 12, 10 5:39 PM
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