Public Voices Third Track Thoughts

The pros and cons of main line rail expansion

Thanks to a media blitz by the state, all those who have a stake in the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Expansion Project can tell you the benefits of putting in a third track on the 9.8-mile main line between Floral Park and Hicksville.

Two other major components of the MTA’s $2 billion capital plan include adding parking garages for an additional 2,490 spaces and eliminating seven grade crossings through the corridor, which serves 40 percent of the railroad’s daily ridership.The Executive Summary from the 2,500-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) lists the good things that will come from project approval, including improved service and reduced delays, a reduction in pollution and noise from eliminating the grade crossings, major station upgrades and improving “track infrastructure such as switches, signals, and power.”

Unlike a similar plan 10 years ago, the current one does not call for the state to acquire residential homes. The track will be built on the LIRR’s right of way.

LIRR Executive Vice President Elisa Picca, in welcoming attendees to a public hearing on the DEIS in New Hyde Park on Jan. 19, made note that the comment period on the DEIS had been extended from Jan. 31 to Feb. 15. Anyone who wishes to submit comments can visit www.aModernLI.com for more information.

“Incorporating extensive input from the local community, the project team is now exploring neighborhood-friendly and innovate construction methods and practices to keep the impact of construction as minimal as possible,” Picca said.

Many of the speakers, hailing from Floral Park, took issue with that statement. They believed work on the grade crossings involving three busy, two-lane thoroughfares with parking along the sides, would wreak havoc on businesses and dramatically increase the congestion.

“This is an important project for our region. It doesn’t mean that the concerns raised by the residents nearby aren’t legitimate,” Kevin Law

Village of Floral Park Trustee Lynn Pombonyo quoted from the DEIS, “The proposed project will not result in any impact to the business district in Floral Park…and would not result in any adverse socioeconomic impacts and therefore mitigation will not be necessary.”

Pombonyo stated that “while the construction period will be short in duration, it will likely be long term with regards to impact” and ended her comments with a plea that “the serious shortcomings in the DEIS be addressed.”

Floral Park Deputy Mayor Kevin Fitzgerald said the effects of elevatingthe railroad in his village back in the ’60s, leading to the loss of businesses, were still being felt. He warned,

“If this project goes forward, the residential properties affected by it would and should grieve their taxes, therefore raising the tax burden on those not surrounding the construction zone.”

His warnings about declining real estate values and consequent loss of tax revenue were echoed by others in his village, as well as those in neighboring New Hyde Park.

Larry Penner of Great Neck, a transportation historian who spent 31 years at the U.S. Department of Transportation, believed that “construction is going to be very complicated on an active right of way when you have to maintain existing service.”

It is, he said, drawing chuckles, “equivalent to performing heart surgery while the patient is running a marathon. How many times per hour will construction crews have to stop and then resume work? How much work is going to be done on nights and weekends and overnight?”

Others raised questions about the budget and the length of construction, noting that in all such big capital projects, they tended to go up in cost and time. Still others questioned where the money would come from and if the state had not reached its debt limit.

Richard O’Kane, president of the Nassau-Suffolk Building and Construction Trades Council, spoke for his 59,000 members and was a strong supporter of the project, noting that it represented the possibility of thousands of “good-paying jobs.”

Like other speakers, he mentioned the desirability of both keeping and attracting youth on Long Island; and to its backers, the project fit the bill.

Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association and co-chair of the Right Track for Long Island Coalition, mentioned how the completion and enhancement of other transportation projects resulted in positive economic development. “This is an important project for our region,” Law said. “It doesn’t mean that the concerns raised by the residents nearby aren’t legitimate. The MTA and railroad should address and mitigate these concerns.”

Law added, “Decades from now, people will say, ‘Wow, what would our region have been like if this third track had not happened?’”

Visit www.longislandweekly.com for more extensive comments from the public hearing.