Nassau County Executive-elect Laura Curran has some significant challenges ahead on her commitment to deliver on the proposed Nassau Hub Bus Rapid Transit project. 

This year represents the 12th anniversary of the ongoing proposed Nassau Hub planning efforts and study. 

Under several grants, millions of dollars from the Federal Transit Administration have been spent on this study with no significant progress to date.  

Since 2005, Nassau County has conducted a series of ongoing planning and environmental efforts to support a number of potential transportation improvements, such as Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail or other options for the Nassau Hub.

This might connect Roosevelt Field Mall, Hofstra University, Nassau Community College, Museum Row, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the County seat in Mineola, Garden City, Hempstead and Westbury. 

The cost for design, construction and implementation could be easily several hundred million dollars, depending upon the transportation mode and route(s) selected.

Some have estimated a $450 million total cost.  It seems that every year Nassau County can’t find several million to help NICE bus avoid service cuts. 

So what are the odds of finding several hundred million for the Nassau Hub Bus Rapid Transit project?

Too many transportation studies have been championed by numerous past Nassau County elected officials. 

These have been nothing more than placebos designed to placate demagogues, who are not regular users of the numerous public transportation alternatives that have been available for decades.

The real problem is finding money to make things happen.  

All too often funding for many studies would have been better spent on real improvements instead of just lining the pockets of consultants.  

How many studies end up on the shelf of planners just collecting dust?  How many times do we end up with a series of press conferences and news releases designed to provide free publicity for elected officials to grease the wheels for future elections. 

Too many of these same elected officials seldom use public transportation like thousands of constituents do on a daily basis.  They promise a bright future but leave riders holding an empty bag.

There are a number of issues to contend with in the recent consolidation of up to 90 buses previously assigned to Rockville Center Bus Depot with the Mitchell Field Bus Depot.   

They have a direct impact on development of any future Nassau Hub Bus Rapid Transit project.  Mitchell Field was constructed with indoor storage capacity for 225 buses.

As a result, many buses reassigned from Rockville Center continue to be stored outside. Exposing buses to rain, snow, sleet and cold weather impacts the useful life of a bus by acceleration of physical deterioration.  

Compressed natural gas fueling stations, bus washers and other day to day support equipment have also been affected.  More buses continue to be stacked up outside waiting longer before being fueled and washed. 

 What are the additional costs for buses assigned to Nassau County South Shore routes previously operated out of the Rockville Center bus garage?   

How many millions of dollars will NICE Bus require from Nassau County to modify the Mitchell Field facility expanding indoor storage capacity to accommodate buses formerly assigned to the Rockville Center Bus Depot.

More time and mileage have begun to be accumulated on buses starting out each day and dead heading back after the last trip.

The success of both MTA LIRR $2 billion Main Line Third Track along with $10.8 billion East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal projects are also dependent upon NICE Bus being able to expand feeder service to various LIRR stations.

How will NICE bus be able to accommodate future expansion with only one working bus depot?  There will need to be future accommodations made for the many new LIRR riders with new additional service provided by NICE Bus.

How would NICE Bus be able to accommodate the needs of any new bus services, as a result of implementing any recommendations from the ongoing Nassau Hub Transportation Study? 

Fleet expansion of several dozen new buses as part of any Nassau Hub Bus Rapid Transit project may now need their own maintenance, operation and storage facility due to the unwise decision to close Rockville Center. 

There is no room for NICE bus system fleet expansion at Mitchel Field with the consolidation of equipment previously assigned to Rockville Center.  

On April 9, 2017 NICE bus closed the Rockville Center bus depot as part of cost savings measures to bridge a multi-million dollar shortfall in their 2017 budget. 

This saved NICE bus $1.5 million in operating costs. 

Nassau County was unsuccessful in obtaining $1.5 million from Gov. Cuomo and the state Legislature to keep this facility open.  County Executive-elect Laura Curran hopes they will pay for the Nassau Hub Bus Rapid Transit project. 

Why would they provide several hundred million to finance the Nassau Hub Bus Rapid Transit project when being unable to find $1.5 million?

In the end, I predict Nassau County will have to go after federal funding for the project.  One potential source is the Federal Transit Administration discretionary competitive New Starts program.

After 12 years of planning, what is the current status of Nassau County’s dialogue with the Federal Transit Administration on behalf of this project? 

The first step would be obtaining permission to enter the Project Development Phase of the Federal Transit Administration New Starts Program.  This is just the start of a long multi year process.

The initial approval to enter the “project development” phase would represent only the first step, and the project still faces myriad hurdles.  

Completion of this work includes the FTA issuing an environmental finding, along with reaching agreements with Nassau County concerning proposed project budget, scope and milestones. This averages several years.  

 This is followed by the project being given permission by the FTA to advance to the next stage known as “final engineering.”  

Progression of final design and engineering from 30 percent to 100 percent averages several more years.  

This could include review and approval by various county, state and federal permitting or regulatory agencies along with financial, user, operations and maintenance groups. Imagine how long the Nassau County Interim Financial Review Board would take before providing approval.  

 Successful completion of the New Starts process results in the federal government’s entering into a Full Funding Grant Agreement. This third step can average several more years.  The FFGA is the legally binding commitment for providing federal funding. 

It is also subject to Congressional recommendation and Presidential approval for inclusion of the project within future annual authorization and appropriation of funding under FTA New Starts budgets to finance the FFGA.

There can be no Full Funding Grant Agreement without documentation that the local recipients (Nassau County) share is in place.

How would Nassau County come up with $300 million to leverage $150 million in federal dollars assuming a total project cost of $450 million? 

Would Nassau County contribute $150 million and ask New York State for $150 million resulting in a three way 33 percent County/State/Federal cost sharing agreement?

Curran may need two terms in office before seeing a shovel in the ground for the Nassau Hub Bus Rapid Transit project.  

Larry Penner

Great Neck

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office.)

Multiplex Content Recommendation - 1