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Third Track project to eliminate grade crossing at Covert Avenue in New Hyde Park

An underpass will allow cars to travel beneath the tracks, but LIRR officials' release of the project details spurred questions about the presence of Agent Orange in the soil.

An artist's rendering shows the Covert Avenue underpass

An artist's rendering shows the Covert Avenue underpass that will be built as part of the proposed Long Island Rail Road expansion project and that will eliminate the current grade crossing in New Hyde Park.   Photo Credit: MTA

Residents in New Hyde Park and Floral Park were told Thursday that three grade crossings near their homes will be eliminated as part of the Long Island Rail Road’s Third Track project.

More than 100 residents packed New Hyde Park Road School to hear construction updates from LIRR officials. Railroad representatives said they are working to make the grade-crossing construction as nonintrusive as possible, but some residents’ thoughts turned to environmental concerns — specifically, whether the banned pesticide Agent Orange is in the soil that will be disturbed as the project progresses.

“It’s been brought up a time before about, years ago, along the railroad track, the use of Agent Orange,” said New Hyde Park resident Maria Clark. “I’ve yet to hear if we’ve had a real soil test to see if there’s any concern about that.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is building a 9.8-mile track on the LIRR’s Main Line from Floral Park to Hicksville. In December, the MTA hired 3rd Track Constructors, or 3TC, to build the track. The project is scheduled for completion in December 2022.

Agent Orange is an herbicide that the U.S. military sprayed over the jungles of Vietnam in the 1960s during the Vietnam War. The herbicide was later linked to health issues in veterans and their children, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, rashes and birth defects.

An LIRR spokesman told The New York Times in 1979 that the railroad used the chemical to clear the right of way before 1976.

Travis Brennan, 3TC’s outreach director, told Clark that the LIRR has done initial soil testing in New Hyde Park and that the results came back with no traces of Agent Orange.

“There were way less contaminants than what we anticipated,” Brennan said, adding that a deeper soil test is underway. “We are currently in the process of getting results back for Floral Park and for New Hyde Park. We are going to share those results.”

Roxanne Binaso of New Hyde Park said the LIRR should have conducted a soil test before the Third Track was approved.

“I was happy to hear that initial tests came back pretty good,” Binaso said. “I was very shocked to hear that a complete profile of the soil hadn’t been done before the beginning of the project. I’m worried. What would happen if there were elevated levels of Agent Orange?”

Brennan said that “should there be an issue, we have certain mitigation procedures in place.”

As part of the project, 3TC will demolish seven grade crossings, three of which are in New Hyde Park. The crossing at South 12th Street and the crossing at New Hyde Park Road will be gone and the crossing at Covert Avenue will be reconstructed, 3TC officials said.

The changes at Covert Avenue will allow drivers to travel under the track while the train runs overhead.

“Covert Avenue is going to change,” Brennan said. “You are no longer going to have to take your kid to school and wait 30 minutes at an at-grade crossing to pass.”

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