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Suffolk planning panel calls for LIRR electrification

LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski speaks to the Long

LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski speaks to the Long Island Regional Planning Council at Hofstra University on March 3, 2015 in Hempstead. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Suffolk County Planning Commission Wednesday urged the MTA to electrify Long Island Rail Road tracks to Port Jefferson, Riverhead and Patchogue to spur economic growth.

Commission chairman David Calone said the region needs to send a united message to get its fair share of transportation funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"A lot of money goes to the city. We need to advocate for projects that make sense for Long Island," Calone said.

Currently, trains east of Huntington, Ronkonkoma and Babylon are diesel. Officials say they are less reliable and force commuters to change trains to get to and from New York City.

Adrienne Esposito, commission vice chairwoman, said she has never taken the LIRR from Patchogue to the city because of delays caused by switching trains. Instead, she drives to Babylon or Farmingdale.

"It's way past time we modernized our railroads," said Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a nonprofit environmental group.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, the Long Island Association and LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski have expressed support for electrification. The project is not included in the MTA's proposed $32 billion five-year capital program.

MTA officials have said it would cost $18 million per track mile to extend electrified portions. The LIRR says it's 23 miles from Huntington to Port Jefferson, 25 miles from Ronkonoma to Riverhead and 17 miles from Babylon to Patchogue.

"We are very pleased to see that the Planning Commission's priority list includes important LIRR projects already underway as well as those that lay out a strategy for the future improvements," said LIRR spokesman Salvatore Arena.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine welcomed the commission recommendation.

"What we have now is unseemly, especially on the Port Jefferson line where we have one of New York's largest state universities, Stony Brook," Romaine said. "It's crazy that it is not electrified."

Kevin Law, president of the LIA, the region's largest business group, said increased investment for LIRR projects is among the group's top 15 priorities.

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