By GREGORY ZELLER //
Governor Andrew Cuomo has a lot of company on his ride along Long Island Rail Road’s “third track.”
One day after the governor reiterated his commitment to the long-debated LIRR expansion project in a state-of-the-state address as Farmingdale State College, the Right Track for Long Island Coalition – a partnership of major organizations, institutions, businesses and individuals stumping for the railroad expansion plan – has released a pro-third track petition signed by more than 4,500 LIRR commuters.
The petition’s preliminary results – canvassers are still collecting signatures – come roughly one week before the Metropolitan Transit Authority hosts six public hearings on the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, which was released in November.
The hearings are scheduled for Jan. 17-19 at locations in Westbury, Hempstead, New Hyde Park and Hicksville. The MTA recently extended the DEIS public-comments deadline by two weeks.
If the results of the Right Track petition are any indication, transportation officials should expect some favorable public comments regarding the governor’s third-track plan, which addresses longtime property, cost, environmental and safety concerns that have plagued previous expansion attempts.
The 4,542 signatures noted Wednesday were collected by paid coalition workers since October at 17 different LIRR stations and roughly 100 private businesses along the railroad’s Ronkonkoma, Port Jefferson and Oyster Bay branches. The petition states that construction of a third track would alleviate many of the railroad’s legendary jams and is undersigned by “LIRR commuters and passengers who suffer regular delays and crowded trains because of the antiquated two-track bottleneck on the Mainline Corridor between Hicksville and Floral Park.”
Cuomo’s plan adds a “third track” along that 9.8-mile, historically troublesome stretch, where five major branches join the LIRR mainline – and does so with no residential property acquisitions, the elimination of several dangerous grade crossings, the construction of noise-reducing sound walls and related station and parking-lot improvements.
In addition to those transportation and safety benefits, the third-track project is projected to create more than 2,200 short-term construction jobs and, 10 years after completion, some 14,000 permanent jobs, according to research published by the Long Island Index, an ongoing socioeconomic study conducted by the Garden City-based Rauch Foundation.
It’s also expected to generate roughly 35,000 new Long Island residents (with about 40 percent of them between 25 and 44 years old), tens of millions of dollars in sales and property taxes and billions in personal income and gross regional product, according to the Long Island Index.
The project is “vital to the future of Long Island,” according to Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association and co-chairman of the Right Track for Long Island Coalition along with Executive Director Dave Kapell, a former Greenport mayor now consulting for the Rauch Foundation.
“This project will significantly expand and modernize the LIRR,” Law said Wednesday. “Business owners know it, commuters know it and homeowners across the region know it.”
Kapell, who acknowledged that “past efforts to build a third track have been controversial,” said “unprecedented” planning and social outreach by Cuomo’s office and the MTA have created a winning strategy – as evidenced by the strong public support for the Right Track petition.
“The legitimate concerns of local leaders and their communities have not only been addressed, but central Nassau will be totally transformed by the time the third track is complete,” Kapell said in a statement. “This third track is truly a win-win for all Long Islanders.”
To keep the momentum rolling, Right Track has also released an online version of the petition, allowing commuters to sign with a convenient click that also automatically generates a letter of support to “key state elected officials,” according to the coalition.
Right Track has also released an animated video asking viewers “How Frustrated Are You With the Long Island Rail Road?”
Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, a grassroots community organization squarely in the third track’s corner, said the most common feedback petition volunteers hear from commuters is, “Why haven’t they done this already?”
“People taking the train from places like Huntington, Ronkonkoma, Syosset – who are delayed weekly, if not daily – are just as desperate for increased reliability from the LIRR as those commuting from Hicksville [and] New Hyde Park,” Tyson said.