The Long Island Rail Road has untapped potential to transform the economies of Nassau and Suffolk, but will need some long-overdue capacity improvements to do so -- including a controversial expansion that appeared to get a new name Tuesday, a new report says.
The report spoke of the LIRR's crucial role in generating new dollars for Long Island -- both by growing the number of high-salary Manhattan commuters living on Long Island and by creating new job centers and housing developments near LIRR stations.
The report said that some of those goals could be accomplished by two major LIRR projects already in the works: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's East Side Access project to link the railroad to Grand Central Terminal, and the Double Track plan to build a second track along 20 miles of mostly single-track territory between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma.
Those efforts will increase property values for 400,000 Long Island homeowners, create hundreds of thousands more potential commuters and give boosts to economic development initiatives including Wyandanch Rising and planned transit hubs in Ronkonkoma and East Farmingdale, according to the report.
"When East Side Access and Double Track are completed, we will have done a lot to improve the lives of commuters and make the railroad more efficient and reliable," said foundation president Nancy Rauch Douzinas. "But . . . we will not have realized the full potential for what the railroad could do for Long Island's economy."
To get near that potential, the LIRR should revisit a plan to build a third track on its Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville. The plan, which a foundation consultant Tuesday dubbed the Fast Track, has been deferred indefinitely by the LIRR because it lacks funding and political support. The project is estimated to cost $1.3 billion and would require encroaching on private properties near LIRR tracks.
Still, the report said that increasing the LIRR's capacity to accommodate commuters traveling onto and within Long Island for jobs is essential. It cited White Plains and Stamford, Conn., as examples of cities that have seen economic booms because of so-called "reverse commuting."
Not building a Fast Track "guarantees our increased dependence on the automobile," Douzinas said. "It means watching out neighbors grow as we don't."