Residents of communities along the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line came out in big numbers Thursday to speak against a $2 billion proposal to build a third track that they said would devastate their quality of life.
In sharp contrast to other public hearings earlier this week in Westbury and Hempstead, where opposition to the plan was scarce, two separate hearings in New Hyde Park were packed with residents and business owners from the village and nearby Floral Park. They said they would bear the brunt of the construction for the proposed third track, while reaping the least benefits.
“If you put all the employees that are involved with all the local businesses . . . you will see people losing their jobs,” said Tim Dalton, a Floral Park resident and business owner who lived through the last major LIRR project in his village — the elevation and reconstruction of Floral Park Station in 1960. “That was for a more modern Long Island at the time. This doesn’t seem like a project that has much thought.”
Project officials say the LIRR Expansion Project, as it is formally called, would drastically improve service for hundreds of thousands of commuters by eliminating the two-track bottleneck between Floral Park and Hicksville. The extra capacity would allow the LIRR to run extra trains, especially in the opposite direction during peak hours, and more easily work around service disruptions on one track, officials say.
But several of the speakers at the hearings, which included many elected officials from New Hyde Park and Floral Park, questioned the need for the project and suggested other improvements, such as additional switch points between the two existing Main Line tracks, would accomplish the same benefits with less impact.
“I think delays are a problem, but it’s not the third track, or lack thereof, it’s broken rails. It’s defective signals, and so on and so forth,” New Hyde Park Mayor Robert Lofaro said. “We do not believe a third track is necessary and will solve all the problems.”
Other residents raised concerns that homeowners near the construction would successfully challenge their tax assessments — passing the tax burden to other neighbors and businesses. And they expressed skepticism over the project’s estimated budget of $2 billion and three- to four-year construction time frame. Floral Park Mayor Thomas Tweedy called the figures “grossly underestimated.”
Supporters of the project said they sympathized with the residents’ concerns but urged the railroad and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who proposed the effort a year ago, to push ahead with the third track, which they say could be an economic boon for Nassau and Suffolk.
“It doesn’t mean that concerns raised by residents nearby aren’t legitimate. The MTA and the railroad should address those concerns,” said Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association and co-chairman of the Right Track for Long Island Coalition, a consortium of project supporters. “But this project is critically important to our region. And decades from now people will say, ‘Wow. What would our region be like if this third track didn’t happen?’ ”
Although they rejected the overall expansion project, several residents said they did supported one key part of it: the elimination of seven grade crossings along the project corridor, including three in New Hyde Park. Residents said the state should get rid of the crossings, which can result in accidents and traffic congestion, separate from the third track plan.
“I respect my neighbors and I don’t want them to be in any way inconvenienced,” New Hyde Park resident Frank Puglisi said. “If I have to live with these grade crossings for the rest of my life in my hometown, I will do so.”
Some residents also objected to the project’s neglect of the Floral Park station, located just west of the project site. While other stations along the Main Line are in line for various improvements as part of the plan, including station renovations and additional parking, there are no proposed improvements for Floral Park.
“The idea that over $2 billion is slated for this visionary project, yet the Floral Park station is going to remain untouched is incomprehensible,” said Hillcrest Civic Association President Nadia Holubnyczyj-Ortiz, who uses a wheelchair and urged the LIRR to make the station handicapped accessible. “This is not a favor, this is not a bargaining tool for mitigation. This is a public right to public transportation.”