By GREGORY ZELLER //
State Senate Republicans have signed off on public funding for the LIRR’s roughly $2 billion “third track” effort, clearing a last hurdle for the perpetually debated plan to ease a 10-mile bottleneck between Hicksville and the Queens border – a critical pressure point for legendary LIRR delays and service disruptions.
The approval followed weeks of intense lobbying and brinksmanship in Albany, a threatened veto by the Senate and concerted opposition by the villages of New Hyde Park and Floral Park, which said the new track would irrevocably change the quality of life in their communities.
In the center was New York State’s MTA Capital Program Review Board, a six-member committee – representing the governor’s office, both houses of the state legislature and the New York City mayor’s office – with veto power over MTA spending plans. That includes the five-year, $1.8-billion-plus “third track” plan, already approved by the MTA board.
With a Capital Program Review Board deadline set to expire at midnight and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) essentially controlling the vote – and threatening to veto the five-year spending program, based on those regional quality-of-life concerns and other issues – the MTA pulled its “third track” plan June 30, and then promptly resubmitted it.
The move restarted a 30-day CPRB review period – and gave negotiators extra time to find common ground with New Hyde Park and Floral Park, which ultimately accepted MTA assurances on a range of safety and community issues.
The MTA also made its peace with Flanagan, who had cited a recent NYC subway derailment, the “summer of hell” Amtrak construction project upending the LIRR schedule and other safety and service issues as sufficient reasons for pause.
“I’m pleased that communities impacted by the proposed ‘third track’ will receive the safety and quality-of-life upgrades they have said were critical,” Flanagan said Tuesday.
Despite localized concerns from some neighborhoods, the latest attempt to create a “third track” has been largely embraced by LIRR riders and other regional stakeholders. The plan would see the addition of a 9.8-mile track between Floral Park and Hicksville, a historically troublesome stretch where five major branches join the LIRR mainline.
Unlike previous officials championing such construction, Cuomo’s office went to great lengths to minimize the environmental impact of this plan, including limiting construction almost exclusively to existing LIRR property and constructing new sound walls at key junctures.
The latest incarnation also addresses existing safety concerns along the railroad route, including the elimination of seven street-level crossings within the “third track” construction zone.
The State Senate’s approval is a big political win for Cuomo, who resuscitated a long-stalled project often deemed “dead on arrival” by political observers – and then made it a cornerstone of his infrastructure-focused administration.
Noting Long Island residents “will benefit from it for generations to come,” the governor on Tuesday lauded the Capital Program Review Board’s approval and a spending plan he believes will reap benefits long after its five-year run.
“After decades of delay, today we took action to fundamentally change the economy on Long Island and secure its future prosperity,” the governor said in a statement.
Long Island Association President Kevin Law, a strong advocate of the “third track” plan and co-chairman of the grassroots Right Track for Long Island Coalition, credited Cuomo and Flanagan for working together “to move this project forward.”
“Anything we can do to make it easier to get to and from New York City strengthens the Long Island economy,” Law told Innovate LI. “Thus, the ‘third track’ will be a game-changer for Long Island.”