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3rd track study says project would have 'minimal' environmental impact

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Posted: Thursday, December 1, 2016 12:13 pm | Updated: 2:03 pm, Thu Dec 1, 2016.

The Long Island Rail Road’s proposal to construct a 9.8-mile third track between Floral Park and Hicksville will take three to four years to complete at a cost of about $2 billion, according to a draft environmental impact report released Monday.

The environmental report for the LIRR’s Main Line expansion states that the project would have a “minimal” adverse impact and addresses quality of life concerns for those in the surrounding communities.

“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 project, which Cuomo proposed in January 2016, was initially expected to cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion. Various aspects to the project were added including station improvements, parking garages and sound barriers.

A more precise time period for completion will be determined after a “competitively bid contract” is awarded to a contractor, according to the study, but work at any specific location will not take longer than two years.

The project calls for 2,257 additional parking spaces in New Hyde Park, Mineola, Westbury and Hicksville.

In New Hyde Park, the MTA will add 95 parking spaces, while 977 parking spaces would be added to two parking garages on Second Street and Mineola Boulevard that currently offer 115 spaces and 120 spaces, respectively.

The New Hyde Park, Merillon Avenue, Mineola, Carle Place and Westbury LIRR stations will also see improvements, which include platforms to accommodate 12-car trains, pedestrian overpasses and underpasses to connect eastbound and westbound platforms, heated platforms and ADA-compliant ramps.

According to the study, noise pollution would be mitigated by “sound attenuation walls” and the elimination of seven street-level railroad crossings, five of which are in New Hyde Park and Mineola.

Businesses would not be affected by the project, and it is estimated to generate approximately $3.18 billion for Nassau County and approximately $3.33 billion for the New York State economy overall, according to the study.

“Governor Cuomo challenged us to undertake a project to transform the LIRR experience for both passengers and local communities, and to do so with an unprecedented level of community consultation and outreach – and that’s exactly what we’re doing now,” MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said in a statement. “We have gone to extraordinary lengths to listen to what the public wants out of this project. We will continue to study the impacts of this proposal and take input from all stakeholders, including our neighbors along the tracks and Main Line customers from across Long Island and New York City.”

Although the LIRR will  continue its outreach efforts through public meetings, community consulting, keeping elected officials and stakeholders updated on new information and public comments, some local elected officials said they took issue with the time period they were given to respond to the study. The deadline for comment is Jan. 31.

“The consultants for the LIRR had six months to prepare the document but we, the public, are now given only six weeks to review the material and provide comment,” said Robert Lofaro, mayor of the Village of New Hyde, who has been critical of the plan since it was proposed. “Once again, the governor, the MTA and the LIRR are trying to limit the voices of the people who will be most affected by this project.”

Mayor Thomas Tweedy of the Village of Floral Park said he was concerned with the speed at which the project was progressing and the limited time given to the public to examine the 21-chapter study.

Tweedy said he felt the cost and time period for construction given was not realistic or reliable given the MTA’s “track record” with projects such as East Side Access, which is extending  LIRR service to Grand Central Terminal, taking longer and costing more than originally anticipated.

“It just seems from the standpoint of manpower and the ability to work, it’s an awful lot of work to get done in four years,” he said. “Rather than race through it, let’s make sure we have good planning.”

According to Cuomo’s office, the governor directed construction for the project to use the “design-build” contracting technique, which gives oversight to private construction firms. The method, his office said, “puts the responsibility to both design and build a project on a single firm, capitalizing on private sector construction expertise and innovation and incentivizing a firm’s success at reducing construction length, cost and impacts.”

Tweedy admitted that the third track “might be beneficial” but since the LIRR has other projects it is working on, another one would “exacerbate the problem.”

He said if things don’t go according to plan, Floral Park will have to deal with the consequences.

“We’re not afraid of progress but unexamined progress is a recipe for disaster,” Tweedy said. “If they have a three-year mistake in Floral Park, what does that do to our business community? It just completely changes the business community, which is the backbone of your community.”

He said the project provides no benefits to Floral Park, and when he spoke with MTA officials he was told there was “no hope” for improvements in the village.

“Floral Park is bearing all of the burden, but getting none of the benefit,” Tweedy said.

“Many elements of this project like sound attenuation walls, station improvements and construction planning are the direct result of extensive input from local officials and community members along the project corridor,” said Shams Tarek, a project spokesman. “Mayor Tweedy has made it clear that he opposes the project and the resulting benefits in any form and doesn’t want to influence the design. In fact in this very newspaper he said, ‘it’s their plan to design, it’s their plan to disclose, not mine to develop.’”

“Fortunately, we have heard from the people of Floral Park directly and as a result, this project will include numerous benefits including sound attenuation walls for Floral Park residents and ways to minimize impacts around schools,” Tarek added. “As promised, this project requires no residential property taking, and any Floral Park resident who uses the LIRR will benefit from more reliable service. We will continue to work with the public to make this the best project it can be.”

Both Lofaro and Tweedy said there should be oversight of the project by either an independent or federal entity.

“It should also be noted again that the entity that has ultimate oversight and approval of the [Draft Environmental Impact Statement] is the LIRR,” Lofaro said. “How’s that for controlling your own destiny?”

There are both federal and state requirements regarding construction safety and regulations, and the state Department of Transportation will be overseeing the elimination of the grade crossings.

Efforts to reach the Village of Mineola mayor, Scott Strauss, for comment were unavailing.

While some remained critical of the project, others expressed support after the environmental study.

The Right Track for Long Island Coalition, a group of 204 corporations, labor unions, nonprofit groups and individuals supporting the project, commended Cuomo and the MTA for their efforts.

“After reviewing the DEIS, it is clear that the transformative impact of this project will extend from every Long Island home to every business,” said Dave Kapell, executive director of Right Track for Long Island Coalition.  “Thanks to the unprecedented outreach efforts of the MTA and the Governor’s office, as well as the foresight and vision of some of our local elected officials, we have seen this project turn into a true win for all Long Islanders.”

Although the project will avoid taking any residential property, the MTA will need to acquire four full commercial properties and 10 partial commercial or industrial properties, according to the study.

In total, 2,130 jobs will be created as a result of the project, the study said, 1,297 of which are full-time equivalent construction jobs, as well as 762 off-site Nassau County jobs, 24 off-site Suffolk County jobs and 33 New York State jobs.

There will be six meetings for public comment from Jan. 17 to 19.

Two will take place on Jan. 17 at the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury. The first meeting runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the second begins at 6 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m.

On Jan. 18, there will be two meetings at the David S. Mack Student Center at Hofstra University. The first meeting begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. and the second goes from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The final two meetings will take place at The Inn at New Hyde Park on Jericho Turnpike.

The first meeting goes from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the second begins at 6 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m.

Comments can also be submitted online, by mail or in person before the draft environmental report’s Jan. 31 deadline.

Officials said comments would be taken into consideration for the final environmental report.

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