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LIRR to demolish, replace 118-year-old Great Neck bridge

A train passes under the Colonial Road bridge

A train passes under the Colonial Road bridge in Thomaston on Friday March 27, 2015. Credit: Chris Ware

A 118-year-old Great Neck bridge will close Monday for an entire year so the Long Island Rail Road can rebuild it as part of a $45 million project to expand and improve service on the Port Washington line.

The Colonial Road Bridge, which goes over the tracks in the Village of Thomaston near the Great Neck station, will be demolished and replaced with a bridge with wider lanes and improved sidewalks, LIRR officials said.

Elected officials and residents have long expressed safety concerns about the deteriorating bridge, which is considered "functionally obsolete" by the state Department of Transportation.

"Replacing the Colonial Road Bridge will benefit the entire Great Neck community," state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) said in a statement. "The LIRR is not just improving roadway safety and enhancing service for riders; it is doing so in a way which addresses residents' quality of life concerns after listening to extensive community input."

Most of the bridge work will take place during off-peak hours on weekdays, but LIRR officials said rail service will be suspended June 19-22 while the bridge is demolished, and again over a pair of weekends in the fall when the new structure is erected. Traffic signs will be in place in advance of the closure, directing motorists to alternative routes.

As part of the project, the LIRR will also build a new retaining wall at track level to address drainage problems in the area, and extend an existing pocket track by 12 train car lengths to allow for more trains to be stored and turned around by the time the railroad increases service in connection with the completion of East Side Access in 2022. That project aims to link the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal.

"The improvements will not only provide the community with a safer bridge, the extended pocket track will enable the LIRR to turn trains faster and provide better rush-hour service from Great Neck and stations west of Great Neck on the busy Port Washington branch," LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski said.

Thomaston resident and LIRR commuter Steven Hirsch, whose home abuts the railroad's right of way, said the railroad hasn't done enough to inform homeowners about the pocket track project, which he said will create a "train yard" next to several homes. He said a letter sent by the LIRR to affected residents in January, offering a "pre-construction assessment," made no mention of anything other than the bridge replacement.

"I think a lot of people are going to be surprised," Hirsch said.

LIRR officials stood by their outreach efforts, which began in 2011 with the opening of a temporary project information center at the Great Neck station. Officials said they recently distributed a community newsletter that "explained construction plans phase by phase as well as related community impact."

Completion of the entire LIRR project is scheduled for the end of 2018.

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