Expanding on the rail-bus concept

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Public transportation experts on the East End have put the meat on the bones of a potential bus-rail network here.

The five East End towns are working with the Volpe Center, a federal transportation analysis firm, to examine the feasibility of a coordinated series of buses that would connect to small trains running frequently on the Long Island Rail Road’s existing tracks.

According to Tom Neely, the Public Transportation and Safety Director for Southampton Town, the towns and the Volpe Center have developed a conceptual plan that would include service every 30 minutes between 6 and 10 a.m. and from 3 to 7 p.m. and every hour at other times. The service would run 18 hours a day for half of the year and 14 hours daily for the other half.

The conceptual plan includes a 30-minute local circulator route in and around Southampton Village, though Mr. Neely said that the streets the bus would use have not yet been determined. It also includes service between Riverhead and Hampton Bays and Riverhead and Westhampton. Travellers who want to go from Riverhead to Southampton would have to take the Hampton Bays bus and then take a train to Southampton, which Mr. Neely said is a concern, since commuters tend to stop using a particular form of transportation if they need to change seats.

That particular connection is also troubling because the current S92 Suffolk Transit bus now links Riverhead to Southampton.

“We’re looking at the S92 bus route. At least part of that route should be intact,” he said. One of the break points is someone going from Riverhead to Southampton would want a direct bus route.”

He added that a potential commuter who was going from Riverhead to Montauk may not mind having to switch over to a train in Hampton Bays, since as the system is currently structured, they would need to switch to a train in East Hampton anyway.

“It’s taken us since August. We’ve had lots of good discussions,” he said. “One volunteer said, ‘I’m getting a headache thinking about all this stuff.’ I said, ‘That’s what transportation planning is all about.’”

“There are realistic cost implications. The two basic elements are ridership levels and costs,” he added. “We have to be realistic. I think we’ve tried to develop a middle ground without overdoing it or under-doing it. Now we can tweak it a little bit.”

Mr. Neely said that the Volpe Center is planning to complete a report very soon and the stakeholders in the project are hoping to hold public outreach sessions on the plan by mid-January.

Though the feasibility study was initially expected to be complete in mid-winter, Mr. Neely said that the Volpe Center is also going to examine a second concept for the transportation network, which will push the completion date for the study back until April.

He said that, instead of picking out an alternative, the traffic experts in the community have instead asked the Volpe Center to bring a concept to them.

“The idea was, leave the second idea as an open slate and ask Volpe to come back to us and tell us what they think will be a good alternative,” he said.

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