To the delight of school employees and others who have become accustomed to taking the train to work, the South Fork Commuter Connection will continue through June—for three days a week.
The Commuter Connection, a coordinated rail and bus service promoted as an alternative to heavy traffic in Southampton as a new eastbound lane was added to County Road 39, was scheduled to end right before Memorial Day weekend. The lane, intended to eliminate the bottleneck at the lane merge at the end of the Sunrise Highway in Shinnecock Hills, was projected to be finished then. It actually was opened seven weeks ahead of schedule, on April 9.
The bottleneck now appears to have moved east, beyond the terminus of County Road 39 where it meets Montauk Highway—which is one lane wide in each direction—and into downtown Water Mill. Eastbound morning traffic on the highway for about a mile west of the hamlet center has been moving at a slow crawl.
The service has been so popular with teachers, several school districts asked the Long Island Rail Road to continue the Commuter Connection until classes let out for the summer, said Sam Zambuto, a spokesman for the LIRR.
The LIRR can provide the trains after Memorial Day only for three days a week—Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday—because of the demands of the railroad’s summer schedule during Fridays and Mondays.
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. led the charge to find the funding to continue the Commuter Connection in New York State’s 2008-09 budget. The state allocated $125,000 for the Commuter Connection, though it will probably cost only approximately $100,000, Mr. Thiele said.
The assemblyman said his goals are to provide convenience, reward the loyalty of the shuttle riders and to gather one more month of data on ridership trends.
Ridership was strong and steady when the service began in October, but it had a dip in February, Mr. Thiele noted. He is waiting to see if riders will return as traffic congestion on County Road 39 and Montauk Highway east of Southampton gets worse going into the summer.
If ridership does increase, the door is open for the Commuter Connection to return in the fall when school resumes. The money has not yet been set aside for it, but the state’s transportation budget could be tapped, Mr. Thiele said.