People wait for trains at the Hicksville LIRR train station....

People wait for trains at the Hicksville LIRR train station. (Feb. 13, 2011) Credit: Pablo Garcia Corradi

MTA chairman Joseph Lhota Tuesday blamed a "not-in-my-backyard" mentality on Long Island for derailing the LIRR's third-track project.

The project, which would put a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville on the Long Island Rail Road's busy main line, stalled in 2008 after local opposition grew over the project's encroachment on private property.

Opposition led officials to refocus priorities on the East Side Access project and, more recently, the LIRR's second-track project between Ronkonkoma and Farmingdale. Officials have said there is no money available for a third track.

Lhota, addressing the Long Island Regional Planning Council meeting Tuesday, acknowledged that the third-track proposal was "quite controversial." The opposition, he said, had been "textbook NIMBY," but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority would continue to work with local and state legislators to advance the project.

Lhota, a Long Island native, was responding to comments from council chairman John Cameron, who described the third-track project as "critical for Long Island" in light of projected population increases. "We realize how vital it is for Long Island," Lhota said.

State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), one of several elected officials to oppose the project, could not be reached for comment. Charles Puglisi, of Bellerose Village, opposed the project in 2007 and said Tuesday he still thinks it isn't necessary.

But Cameron called the third track "essential for the sustainability of our downtowns," noting community opposition now appeared to come from "just a couple of homes that are impacted."

LIRR president Helena Williams said that without a third track the railroad will never be able to adequately serve reverse-commute customers, such as young people living in Brooklyn recruited by Long Island employers.

Jeff Kraut, a senior vice president of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, said proximity of train stations to the Island's health care facilities was often the first question prospective nursing employees asked during job interviews. The hospital system is Long Island's largest employer, with 42,000 jobs, Kraut said.

While the third-track project remains stalled, Lhota gave an unequivocal endorsement for the second track, which begins design phase this month.

"I'm not here to take credit for the double track -- plenty of others are doing that -- I'm here to build it," he said.

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