On April 22, the Nassau County Legislature unanimously approved the Complete Streets project for Grand Avenue, which includes a “road diet” for parts of the corridor.
On March 25, the legislative body voted to include $8.46 million for the project — about half of which will be reimbursed by a federal grant — in the county’s four-year capital plan, but final approval for it was still required.
At the center of the Complete Streets project is the road diet, the reduction of parts of Grand from four lanes to two, with a center-left turn lane.
Proponents of the plan said it would improve Baldwin’s downtown by making the corridor more pedestrian-friendly, and improve visibility of businesses by slowing down motorists who would otherwise speed past the stores.
“In order to get the type of revitalization you want, you need to make that area more walkable,” said Erik Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, which has supported the proposal. “Kudos to the county for taking action.”
Sean Sallie, deputy commissioner of the county Department of Public Works, said the project would also include lighting and drainage improvements — elements that he said would help revitalize Baldwin. “These things signal to patrons and visitors that this is a downtown, and to slow down,” Sallie said. “All these features serve that.”
But the road diet has a number of detractors in Baldwin, and resident Jack McCloy is the most vocal among them. “I say it’s a sad day,” McCloy said before the Legislature’s vote, “because even though literally hundreds of Baldwin residents have voiced their objections to the road diet, it is still likely to be approved today.”
McCloy added that he believed the project was approved in part because the LiRo Group, a Mineola-based engineering company that designed the plan, and its president, Rocco Trotta, have donated more than $200,000 to county legislators since 2010. “It’s sad, because you’re allowing political donors to cloud your sense of fairness,” McCloy said. “It’s sad because, what you’re allowing to happen is a disservice to your own constituents.”
The Herald confirmed that Trotta has contributed to the campaigns of several county legislators, but state campaign finance records show he has given no money to Baldwin’s county representatives since 2010. He made several donations to Legislator Rose Walker, a Hicksville Republican who sits on the county’s Finance Committee — which approves county contracts — and former Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves, an East Meadow Republican who retired in 2017.
Trotta also donated $1,000 to County Executive Laura Curran, a Baldwin Democrat who has expressed support for the road diet, during her campaign for the county’s highest office.
County officials at the Legislature’s meeting said the donations had no bearing on the approval, and that LiRo has contracts for other projects in Nassau. Baldwinite Mita Mereday also spoke in opposition of the project, and asked for the vote to be postponed so there could be further discussion about it.
The road diet will begin roughly 400 feet north of Merrick Road and continue to about 480 feet south of Sunrise Highway, where Grand will revert to two lanes in each direction. There will be one lane of traffic in either direction north of Sunrise from Smith to Florence streets, with a center left-turn lane.
County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport, has also said she supports the plan.
Mulé said that without the road diet, other improvements, such as new lighting, repaved roads and curb extensions, could not be implemented. “The road diet is key,” she said at a recent Baldwin Civic Association meeting.
Opponents have said the lane reductions would increase congestion on Grand, and hamper emergency services. In January, Robert Fitchett, deputy inspector of the Nassau County Police Department and executive officer of the 1st Precinct in Baldwin, said he did not foresee the redesigned road creating problems for first responders.
Sallie said that while the purpose of the road diet is to slow drivers down, commute times would not increase by much. He also disputed a claim that the plan goes against Federal Highway Administration guidelines that state road diets do not work for streets with a daily average of 20,000 or more vehicles.
While parts of Grand see in excess of 20,000 vehicles per day, Sallie added, the areas where the road diet will be implemented are below that number.
Work is expected to start in the fall.