Gov: Billion-dollar boost for LI tourism

Cuomo: Drink New York,

Saying Long Island is primed for a $1 billion boost in annual tourism, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday announced two contracts for the Long Island Rail Road Double Track project and touted a new welcome center under construction on the LIE.

Cuomo crashed a meeting of the Long Island Association to announce two design-build contracts that will advance the Double Track project, which is meant to increase capacity of the Ronkonkoma branch along 18 miles between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma. The first contract, valued at $59.7 million, has been awarded to Skanska-Posillico II Joint Venture, which will design and construct 7.4 miles of track between Farmingdale and Central Islip.

LIA chief Kevin Law: Cuomo's the man.

LIA chief Kevin Law: Cuomo’s the man.

The addition of the second track will allow the LIRR to provide more frequent off-peak service to the Ronkonkoma Branch in both directions and will increase flexibility and reduce delays associated with service disruptions. Completion of the Double Track project is targeted for the end of 2018.

The second contract is to design and build a new signaling system that will use computer-based train control software to better coordinate train movement when the second track is activated. The contract, valued at $44.8 million, has been awarded to Ansaldo STS USA Inc.

The work will include final design, fabrication, delivery and system integration, and testing of new components, including transmitters and 28 new wayside “huts,” according to Cuomo’s office, as well as other infrastructure associated with new interlockings at Farmingdale, Wyandanch, Deer Park and Central Islip, and a modified interlocking at Ronkonkoma.

“This is a major step forward in our plan to modernize one of the Long Island Rail Road’s busiest lines,” Cuomo said. “The Double Track project will increase the reliability of our mass transit system, improving the commute for thousands of Long Islanders and helping to facilitate future economic growth in the entire region.”

The governor also heralded the new welcome center under construction at the current rest stop near Exit 51 of the Long Island Expressway in Dix Hills. The welcome center will include a 15,200-square-foot LEED-certified building, 135 parking spaces, electric car-charging stations, traveler information hubs, a multipurpose room, 24-hour work stations, bathrooms, an outdoor picnic area and a Taste New York food store.

“Tourism on Long Island is a $5 billion business,” Cuomo told the crowd at the LIA’s Melville headquarters. “It could be a $6 billion business.

“We have not been promoting Long Island,” the governor added. “This will be a welcome center/promotional device for Long Island.”

The building will also house offices for Suffolk County and state police, and will have an emergency backup function in case of a serious storm.

The update has been a long time coming, Cuomo said, but over the years the state faced regional opposition over concerns about traffic and noise. The governor noted the efforts of Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-Northport), who worked with community leaders and state officials.

Some of those same community leaders and officials opposed the state’s plan last summer to build a 9,000-square-foot building at the rest stop, complete with dining and restrooms and 200 parking spaces. Opponents complained they had not been notified of the plans and didn’t know about it until the state started bulldozing trees.

“Andy Raia is a hero,” Cuomo said Friday. “Pandering to a community’s fears is very easy. It takes courage to stand up and, rather than say ‘no,’ say ‘yes’ to something that is smart.”

Cuomo also took a moment at the LIA meeting to promote plans for the 9.8-mile “third track” between Floral Park and Hicksville, a historically bottlenecked stretch where five major branches join the LIRR mainline. The governor reiterated his belief that the third track is crucial to the area’s growth.

LIA President Kevin Law lauded the governor for “a great track record of how to get things done.”

“Projects that have been talked about for decades – repairs and renovations for LaGuardia, the third track and now the welcome center [are moving forward],” Law said. “There hasn’t been investments in our infrastructure like this since Gov. Rockefeller.”

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