State transportation officials will decide in about three months whether a new railroad crossing should be added in Mastic to alleviate chronic traffic congestion.
Alicia McNally, an administrative law judge with the state Department of Transportation, presided over a four-hour hearing last Thursday at Brookhaven Town Hall, during which town and Long Island Rail Road officials and residents debated a proposal to add a crossing at Hawthorne Street or Madison Street.
Brookhaven officials argued an additional crossing is needed to address traffic jams at Mastic’s three train track crossings and ease evacuations during major storms. LIRR officials said they oppose new crossings because they are inherently dangerous for trains and cars.
McNally is to decide within 90 days whether to recommend a new crossing. Her decision will be forwarded to Acting State Transportation Commissioner Paul A. Karas, who will decide whether the LIRR must build the crossing.
Supporters of a new crossing said traffic backs up daily on William Floyd Parkway and Smith and Mastic roads, the only Mastic roadways that cross the tracks. Drivers from Mastic and nearby Shirley and Mastic Beach could be trapped by a storm, they said.
Beth Wahl, president of the Mastic-Shirley Chamber of Commerce, said snarled traffic hurts local businesses, adding a recent auto accident near one crossing caused long delays.
“The whole community came to a standstill for eight hours,” she said at the hearing. “It was a total nightmare.”
Brookhaven officials estimated a new crossing would cost $600,000, but LIRR officials disputed that, saying it would cost at least $2 million.
LIRR officials said they sympathize with residents. But they argued that at-grade crossings frequently are the scenes of horrific crashes.
Trains and cars have crashed 75 times at LIRR grade crossings since 2010, officials said, adding one or more people were killed in 15 of those collisions.
LIRR officials said crossings also are noisy — bells ring and engineers are required to sound horns to warn drivers of approaching trains, prompting complaints from residents who live nearby.
Some residents said they oppose a new crossing because it would draw more traffic to Hawthorne or Madison street.
“You’re putting children’s lives at risk by putting in a railroad crossing,” said Sabrina Buckley, of Mastic Beach, whose parents live near Madison Street. “Traffic will be backed up for miles.”
Other residents said a new crossing would solve traffic woes that had hampered attempts to boost economic development.
“We’re talking about 60,000 residents that are negatively affected,” former Mastic Beach Mayor Maura Spery said. “People don’t want to come down there because they’re going to be stuck in traffic.”