Two Shelter Island town councilmen, Ed Brown and Paul Shepherd, have said “no” to supporting legislation pending again in Albany this year that would create a Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Authority (PBRTA). A three-person majority of the Town Board has backed the proposal, which comes up for local approval every year and — so far — has never made it out of committee and onto the floors of the state Senate or Assembly even though it has been formally supported by all five East End towns including Shelter Island.
The opponents’ thinking is that this town doesn’t need a mass transit system. In fact, it might hurt the Island to let bus loads of workers come here from either fork and take away jobs from local people, as Mr. Brown has suggested. Also, it might cost money. Over the years, as the five East End towns funded a feasibility study, Shelter Island has had to chip in several thousand dollars.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Shepherd don’t want the town to sink any more money into a proposal they don’t think the town needs — a proposal that might hurt Shelter Island.
Local interests must be protected. But there’s a strong argument that local interests, especially in the decades to come, will be well served by a fully functional regional alternative to the automobile.
Traffic congestion — eased a few years ago by the widening of County Road 39 in Shinnecock Hills — will only get worse as the regional population continues to grow. The East End will remain a destination for second-home owners and visitors and, even as gas prices soar, it may become ever more attractive as a vacation spot because it is so close to New York.
If the region is strangled by a built-out, highly constrained east-west highway system and nearly useless train service, Shelter Island will be struggling for breath too. Like the rest of the East End, Shelter Island’s economy is dependent on the second-home industry. It may, in fact, be even more dependent than the bigger East End towns because the Island’s full-time, year-round population and business base are so small.
Saying “yes” right now to the PBRTA concept requires no commitments. It will be a long time before a mass transportation system can be fully planned, much less implemented on the East End. When the time does come, any reasonable contribution the town might be called upon to make during the planning process would be money well spent.
A majority of Town Board members — Democrat Jim Dougherty and Republicans Christine Lewis and Peter Reich — seem to agree that local interests will be served in the years ahead if there’s a good regional alternative in place to the private automobile.