Our Views: Time to get on 3rd track train

Critics of the Long Island Rail Road’s proposal to spend $2 billion to construct a 9.8 mile third track between Floral Park and Hicksville have some legitimate concerns.

The extended construction period along the line will no doubt be inconvenient to residents and could cost local businesses much needed sales.

“If they have a three-year mistake in Floral Park, what does that do to our business community?” Floral Park Mayor Thomas Tweedy, who has led the opposition of groups along the construction zone, said following the release two weeks ago of draft environmental impact report on the project. “It just completely changes the business community, which is the backbone of your community.”

But these are reasons for officials to work closely with state and LIRR officials to do everything possible to minimize whatever disruption comes with the project — not to oppose it.

The need for the project is obvious: there are only two tracks on a 9.8 mile stretch of the Long Island Railroad that serves nearly 60 percent of the railroad’s ridership on Long Island. The tracks, like the island’s highway, are already congested and are expected to get worse as ridership grows in the future. And if something goes wrong: gridlock.

The third track will help reduce the congestion and open the door to economic growth in the future.

But the benefits do not end there.

Perhaps in an effort to win support of communities along the construction zone, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the LIRR have also included a number of important sweetners:

• 2,257 additional parking spaces including 1,133 in two parking garages in Mineola,
• The elimination of seven dangerous, time-consuming, street-level railroad crossings — five of which are in New Hyde Park and Mineola.
• The construction of “sound attenuation walls” to shield residents and businesses from the sound of trains.
• The upgrade of five LIRR stations — New Hyde Park, Mineola, Merillon Avenue, Carle Place and Westbury — to include 12-car trains, pedestrian overpases and underpasses to connect eastbound platforms, heated platforms and ADA-compliant ramps.

The recent environmental impact statement also estimates that the project will generate $3.18 billion for Nassau County and about $3.3 billion for New York State.

“Expanding the Main Line is crucial to the future of Long Island and its residents,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “By increasing capacity on one of the LIRR’s busiest corridors and eliminating all street-level grade crossings, this project will result in less traffic, less congestion and a transportation network that meets the needs of current and future generations of Long Islanders.”

The word for this is no-brainer.

Conspicuously missing from the list of additional parking spaces and upgraded stations are Floral Park, where village officials have led the opposition to the project.

We don’t think this is a coincidence.

We said in February that the third track was a project that would provide a big boost for all of Long Island and urged local officials in the project’s immediate path to negotiate improvements that made any hardships or disruptions worth their while.

Cuomo and the LIRR have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to meet officials talking to them more than half way.

Officials from other villages have taken that approach and their residents will be the better for it. But, so far, not Floral Park.

Tweedy has repeatedly said that Floral Park will bear the brunt of the project’s construction, but not receive any of its benefits

We hope that he is not making that a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Floral Park’s officials have apparently not received much encouragement to take a more measured approach.

State Sen. Jack Martins, who led the opposition to a larger version of the third track plans as mayor of Mineola 10 years ago and recently lost a bid for Congress, called the proposal for a third track “dead on arrival” at the time it was first introduced in January.

Martins is soon to be gone, but his place has been taken by state Sen.-elect Elaine Phillips, who along with state Assemblyman Ed Ra has also expressed opposition to the project.

Phillips, who pledged to bring more education money to the district during her election run, said the LIRR’s parent, the MTA, should be focusing on making travel more affordable for riders rather than spending money on an expensive project. We don’t see the connection — especially with $3.18 billion on the line for Long Island.

Village of New Hyde Park officials have also expressed skepticism about the project, joining Floral Park in a call for federal supervision of the project as well as more time to respond to the recently released environmental draft statement.

But they have not rejected the project outright.

Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss has taken a more wait-and-see attitude — a position now seemingly rewarded with the promise of two parking garages in the villages seen as vital to downtown development.

We hope Floral Park officials as well as their state legislators follow Mineola’s lead and take a more measured approach.

Before the train leaves the station.