Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center...

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany on Jan. 3, 2018. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

A long-debated plan to unclog one of the most troublesome bottlenecks in Long Island’s transportation system formally kicked off Wednesday with the ceremonial groundbreaking of the LIRR’s third track project.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo joined with elected officials and business and transportation leaders in Westbury in marking the official commencement of the $2.6 billion effort to construct a third track along a 10-mile corridor between Floral Park and Hicksville.

“This was very much a collective. Nothing like this happens without bringing a lot of people together to make it happen,” Cuomo said at an event at the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury, followed by the groundbreaking at the nearby Urban Avenue railroad crossing—one of seven crossings to be eliminated as part of the project.  

The LIRR has said the third track will allow it to more easily work around service disruptions on its Main Line and provide enough capacity to run extra trains, including for riders going in the reverse direction during rush hours. Supporters also say the project will increase property values  and create jobs on Long Island.

"Today is a grandly historic day for the LIRR and the MTA,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota said in a statement about the project. “It has been a wish list item for as long as the MTA has existed, and today it is clear it will become a reality."

Although some preliminary work on the third track effort—formally known as the LIRR Expansion Project—has already been underway for months, heavy construction is expected to start this fall. The full project is pegged for completion by the end of 2022.

The railroad had considered building a third track along its Main Line in Nassau several times since as far back as the 1940s. But different proposals over the years—including one that failed in 2008—were stymied by public and political opposition, in part because they would have required building on private property.

“In all my time in public life, I’ve never seen a project that was more dead than this project,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who attended the groundbreaking and credited Cuomo with resurrecting the plan.

Under what Cuomo called the “new,  . . . better plan,” the third track will be built completely on the LIRR’s existing property, although some businesses will have to be relocated because of the grade crossing work.

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