Four community meetings and a new informational website are among the progressive efforts trumpeted Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding his Long Island Rail Road expansion project.
Billing them “major steps forward” for the long-debated project, which aims to improve train traffic through a historically bottlenecked 9.8-mile stretch in Nassau County, Cuomo announced the four public meetings – scheduled for May 24 and 25 in New Hyde Park, Hempstead, Westbury and Hicksville – and other efforts to create “unprecedented community engagement” on the expansion effort, according to the governor’s office.
The governor also announced the launch of a new website detailing the project and its progress, and the release of a “draft scoping document” that outlines the expansion’s purpose, need and potential impacts, as well as a range of alternatives studied by state and local officials.
Metropolitan Transit Authority officials are also opening a LIRR Expansion Project Information Center this week on the south platform of the Mineola train station, giving commuters a chance to review the scoping document and directly question MTA representatives about the third-track plan. Transit officials will be on hand to address rider queries from 11 am to 7 pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 3 pm Saturdays, according to the governor’s office.
Cuomo unveiled his plan to add a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville, where five major branches join the LIRR mainline and service interruptions regularly cause massive delays, in January. Positioning the project as the crown jewel of Cuomo’s ambitious Long Island infrastructure agenda has supercharged an idea that has long struggled for public acceptance and political traction.
Since the governor reinvigorated the expansion proposal, his staff has worked with key LIRR, MTA and New York Department of Transportation officials – as well as local lawmakers, property owners and activists – to rally support, minimize public disruptions and otherwise move the third track toward fruition.
The scoping document lays out a proposed timeline that sees construction improvements at the seven grade crossings completed in “nine months or less” to “significantly ease local traffic congestions.”
“This project will make the LIRR more reliable for millions of customers, while also eliminating multiple dangerous train crossings,” Cuomo said in Thursday’s announcement. “Our proposal will ensure that we can continue to improve the quality of life and grow the economy in the region.”
Cuomo’s third-track plans have been endorsed by Island construction unions, the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, the Long Island Regional Planning Council, the Molloy College Sustainability Institute and the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council. They’ve also spurred the creation of Right Track For Long Island, a coalition of over 100 businesses, environmental groups and other organizations chaired by Long Island Association President Kevin Law and Dave Kapell, the former Greenport mayor now consulting for the Rauch Foundation, a public-interest watchdog that has kept hopes for the project alive for a decade.
The Right Track group praised what it called the “timely release today of the scoping document that initiates environmental review of the LIRR Expansion Project. The document provides specifics on plans for building the critically needed Main Line Third Track between Floral Park and Hicksville, along with alternative designs for eliminating the seven deadly and traffic inducing grade crossings that transect the corridor. The governor has worked closely with leaders of the communities along the corridor to develop these plans and we look forward to helping insure that local concerns are considered and addressed so that everyone benefits from this crucial infrastructure investment in the Long Island’s future.”
As previously announced, the governor also reiterated Thursday that plan modifications have eliminated the need for the use of eminent domain along the project corridor, and no residential property acquisitions will be required to complete construction of the third track.
The four public meetings – which will give residents, business owners and other regional stakeholders a chance to comment on the project before an environmental impact statement is released this summer – are slated for 11 a.m. May 24 at The Inn at New Hyde Park, 6 p.m. May 24 at Hofstra University’s Mack Student Center, 11 a.m., May 25 at the “Yes We Can” Community Center in Westbury and 6 p.m. May 25 at Hicksville catering hall Antun’s.
Despite what has become widespread political support and the “major” progress announced Thursday, it will still be some time before commuters are whizzing delay-free to and from New York City. Assuming environmental reviews are in line and all stakeholders are on board, insiders predict a minimum of five years for the third-track project to be completed.