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Long Island Contractors' Association

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30 years later, the same old problems

by Michael Watt
March 15, 2012

Paul Townsend, a person I admire and respect, posed the following question: "Does Long Island have the assertive leadership to coordinate implementation by associations, institutions, unions and agencies of economic development projects that maximize LI's great advantages and reduces its growth problems?"

Townsend, the editor and co-founder of Long Island Business News, also pointed out several "danger signals" regarding Long Island's future:

If you're reading this and thinking, "So what else is new?" you don't know the half of it. These ponderables were presented in December 1981 as a part of a Townsend piece called "Long Island on the Threshold."

The problems bedeviling Long Island today have been around for more than 30 years. So have the potential solutions. In April 1982, for instance, Townsend outlined 41 "great opportunities to add jobs, cut taxes, (to) make this Isle the nearest place to heaven on Earth." Writing in his inimitable style, Townsend touted developing "LI's $17.1 million transit hub by building MacArthur /Ronkonkoma plane-train-bus-truck terminal." He cited such as assets as the Ronkonkoma station's proximity to the Long Island Expressway as well as how "double tracking" from the LIRR's main line to Ronkonkoma would enhance the foreign trade zone at the airport because of the increased freight-train traffic.

It is interesting to note that Townsend also advocated transit-oriented development. "(Long Island must) revitalize LI's decayed central business districts by citing federal, state, county and town offices and other public facilities where they bring in traffic, make mass transit viable, revive retail and service businesses and do not need more roads, parking, police, etc."

Here's why these Townsend musings are relevant today. Last week, Congressman Steve Israel, speaking at the Long Island Contractors Association annual meeting, pointed out that the United States has a history of "building its way out of recessions." He then mentioned several opportunities to improve Long Island. At the same meeting, Congressman Tim Bishop and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer spoke of pending bills that should provide funding for improving Long Island's transportation infrastructure, including money for a second rail connecting Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma.

Before we break out the hard hats for the elected official photo op at the ground breaking, however, it should be noted that Townsend thought progress was being made in February 1986. He wrote, "A LIMBA spokesman applauded the decision (to rezone the 127-acre Ronkonkoma Redevelopment District). 'We are pleased that the town has decided to plan for the highest and best development of this uniquely situated tract which has the potential of setting new levels of high-value construction for this region as well as being the catalyst for quality growth as Long Island's transportation and conference center. We have been advocating for hub development for 19 years.'"

That Long Island has not been able to move on its various nagging problems or capitalize on its opportunities speaks volumes as to why Nassau and Suffolk counties are so deeply in debt and why municipalities such as Brookhaven are in such financial trouble.

In business and in government, if you are not moving forward you are moving backward. By standing still these past three decades, Long Island has put itself in a position where significant changes like the Ronkonkoma Hub, Accelerate Long Island and sewering Suffolk County must be advocated and implemented as soon as possible lest Long Island turn into an economic wasteland.

In other words, let's hope the answer to Townsend's initial question is a resounding yes!



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