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DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION

Street improvement is talk of the town

Complete streets projects taking shape

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Two street improvement projects, the Baldwin Complete Streets Project and Downtown Revitalization Initiative, have been approved and budgeted to improve street and pedestrian safety along Grand Avenue and Merrick Road, respectively. Both projects are mainly funded through state grants and supplemented by county money, leaving Baldwin with no bill.

Complete Streets addresses a 1.4-mile stretch of the Grand Avenue corridor between Stanton Avenue and Merrick Road, where the DRI picks it up at Merrick Road, between Pershing Boulevard and Harrison Avenue. This overlap has given pause to some Baldwin residents and officials, who say there bay be funding and work redundancies between the projects.

The foundation for the Complete Streets Project was laid in 2013, before the DRI existed, when the Nassau County Legislature enacted a Complete Streets Law, which called for roads that de-center privately owned vehicles and serve the needs of all parties, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, older people, children and those with disabilities.

Then in 2014, the Nassau County Department of Public Works contracted LiRo Engineers to conduct a traffic study of existing and future conditions, which was funded by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council through the Unified Planning Work Program.

With input from NCDPW officials, Nassau County and Town of Hempstead elected leaders, the Baldwin Civic Association, Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, Vision Long Island and Baldwin residents, the final report was released June 9, 2016.

The design and engineering phase of the project began in September 2017, and as of May 2018, 60 percent of the project design work had been completed, including road redesigns, curb bump-outs and new crosswalks, and traffic light synchronization. From March to October, outreach meetings were held with various stakeholders, including a final public information meeting on Dec. 5,2018.

On April 22, 2019, the Legislature unanimously approved the Complete Streets Project, and on March 25, it unanimously voted to include $8.46 million for the project in the county’s four-year capital plan, including $4.7 million in USDOT Surface Transportation Earmarks. Final approval was never given, however.

Meanwhile, Baldwin applied to the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative before the May 31 deadline, and received word of its award of $10 million, $9.7 million for projects and $300,000 for consulting, from the state in August 2019.

In November, the Local Planning Committee was formed and had its first meeting, and four community meetings were held that same month. The Local Planning Committee held four meetings to compile a list of strategies and projects until the pandemic struck. The project had to be paused from March to August 2020.

The process of deciding which potential developments would be submitted to the state as part of the effort to revitalize downtown Baldwin resumed on Sept. 9 via Zoom. On Oct. 14., the Planning Committee voted on the list of projects, which mostly prioritized developments over street safety and beautification projects.

The final DRI strategic investment plan was submitted to the state before the Oct. 30 deadline, and on May 12 this year, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, alongside New York state and Town of Hempstead officials in the lobby of the Baldwin Long Island Rail Road station, announced the approval recently of seven of 12 projects for the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

One of these projects is to Implement roadway and pedestrian safety enhancements along Merrick Road between Harrison Avenue and Pershing Boulevard to facilitate safer circulation between pedestrians and vehicular traffic along the well-traveled corridor, which was allocated $1.5 million dollars.

Two days before the DRI announcement, County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport, applauded the Legislature’s Rules Committee for approving two contracts, nearly $7.9 million with J. Anthony Enterprises Inc. and a more than $1.74 million construction management and inspection services contract with Lockwood Kessler and Bartlett Inc., related to the Complete Streets project, which they had both collectively previously completed $760,000 of work in 2020.

On May 24, the county put forth its 2021-24 Budget and Capital Plan. The DPW stated that the complete Streets received an extra $650,000, which is the required local match for the additional $2.2 million of non-county federal funding secured in December 2020 by the NCDPW to cover contingencies or change orders, increasing the budget from $8.46 million to $11.2 million. The NCDPW also stated, “Nassau County is not using state DRI grant funds for this project.”

Both the DRI and Complete Streets intersect in the scope, location and proposed timeline of the work, as both are projected to be completed within the next few years.

“From the information that I have received, I believe that the county project was fully funded and should not have required DRI money,” Chamber of Commerce Co-president Erik Mahler said, reiterating that development projects should have taken priority. “That money should’ve been used for Baldwin private business enterprises.”

Baldwin Civic Association President Darien Ward expressed concerns over high-density projects being selected over low-density projects for small businesses. Business owner and Local Planning Committee member Zodelia Williams also expressed confusion over the lack of information, but hesitated at making any assumptions around the DRI and Complete Streets redundancies at a May 2021 COC meeting, saying simply, “I don’t know.”