Aerial view of the area to be redeveloped with the planned town square and new buildings on the site of the former Swezey's Department Store (now owned by L.I. Science Center) and the former West Marine, where Summer Wind developer Wayne Steck has an application pending. Courtesy photo: Urban Design Associates

Riverhead Town’s application for a $24 million federal grant for infrastructure improvements was passed over by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The USDOT announced the winners of the RAISE grant program Friday.

The RAISE (Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) grant program is a nationwide competition that distributed around $1 billion of funding to 90 projects this year. Half of the projects which received funding were in urban areas, while half went to projects in rural areas, the DOT said in its press release. Individual projects received a maximum of $25 million, with a limit of $100 million per state.

The DOT received a ten-to-one ratio of requests to available dollars, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in the release. The grants are highly competitive and are awarded to projects that will have “a significant local or regional impact,” according to the release. This is the second time the town has applied for this grant.

Community Development Director Dawn Thomas said the town is disappointed it didn’t receive the reward, but remains optimistic about future opportunities. 

She said the DOT reaches out to applicants for a post-submission conference where the agency and the town will discuss recommended improvements to the town’s application. She said last year’s discussion gave the CDA important insights on how to improve this year’s application for RAISE and the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, such as including a cost-benefit analysis. 

“Being in the grant business you have to remain optimistic, and we always do, and will always continue to put our best foot forward here in our office to make sure that we get the best chance possible to get the funding,” Thomas said.

According to the town’s application for the grant, the funding would have been used to create a transportation hub with a parking garage at the Long Island railroad station, to make improvements to the town square site, to implement flood mitigation measures, and to make downtown more walkable and bike-able.

The RAISE grant funding would have provided $6 million for flood mitigation and $9 million for site improvements for the town square, according to the town’s application. If the flooding is not effectively dealt with, the application says, “it will be difficult to effectively revitalize and improve access to its amenities and most importantly improve safety accessibility and achieve equity and environmental justice objectives.” The town commissioned the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a floodplain management study last year. Thomas said the final recommendations for flood mitigation is expected soon, but did not specify a date.

The town intends to enter a public-private partnership for the development of both the town square and transit-oriented development. Riverhead requested $5 million to help fund the construction of the parking garage near the train station.

The town said in the application that the town square will support transit with a proposed ferry/water taxi terminal on the Peconic Riverfront that would connect downtown Riverhead to Sag Harbor, Greenport and Southampton’s Maritime Trail Park.

Part of the project would call for the construction of newly improved and illuminated walkways and bicycle paths that would connect the transit oriented development to downtown. That project would cost $2 million. The application also requests $2 million to construct bike lane connections between the Veteran Memorial Park Recreational Trail, the Suffolk County Rails to Trails program and the Suffolk County Blueway trail.

The town is also currently in competition for $20 million in New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant funds. The town is a Long Island regional finalist for the competition this year, as it was in previous years, and, if, awarded, plans to put the money towards many of the same projects. Gov. Kathy Hochul started announcing the results of the grants for other regions this month. Thomas expects the grant or grants for the Long Island Region to be announced in the coming weeks.

She also remains optimistic for future DOT grants for infrastructure projects with the passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which includes $550 billion of new investments in national infrastructure over five years. Thomas said the town hopes to apply for the RAISE grant again, which is now funded at $7.5 billion over the next five years, when applications open next May.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]