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LIRR, NICE ‘ready’ for Belmont Stakes gridlock on Saturday

Passengers unload from the N19 NICE bus which

Passengers unload from the N19 NICE bus which runs from Freeport to the Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, at a stop on Merrick Road in Massapequa Park, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. Credit: Steve Pfost

Public transportation, including the Long Island Rail Road, is the best bet for racing fans heading to the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, officials said.

With 90,000 people expected to converge in Elmont to witness Justify’s quest for the Triple Crown, gridlock traffic conditions are expected in and around Belmont Park.

“The parking is going to be tough. The traffic is going to be tough,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said this week. “So if you can, take a train, take the bus, take advantage of the increased service.”

The LIRR, which expects to carry as many as 35,000 riders to the park, is boosting service to meet the high demand. It is adding 21 eastbound trains to Belmont beginning before 10 a.m., and will operate westbound trains from the park about every 15 minutes after the race.

The railroad will be using an expanded Belmont service plan it put in place after the 2014 Belmont Stakes, when a crush of riders caused dangerous crowding and hourslong delays for fans boarding trains after the race.

“What we’ve learned from the past has been incorporated into this whole program,” LIRR president Phillip Eng said. “It’s been a well-coordinated effort up until this point to be ready for this event. And we’re confident we’ll have sufficient trains.”

To further avoid delays, the LIRR is advising customers to buy their train tickets to and from Belmont Park ahead of time. The tickets will not be available for purchase onboard trains, railroad officials said.

The Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE Bus, is also stepping up its efforts to move fans to and from Belmont Park this Saturday. In addition to operating its usual N6 service along Hempstead Turnpike, NICE will have additional buses available at the park to use as needed.

“We’re looking forward to it,” NICE Chief Executive Officer Michael Setzer said. “This is going to be a big deal. And we’re going to help make sure that it’s safe and convenient.”

Setzer said the biggest challenge likely to face county buses on Saturday is the same that will face all vehicles traveling the roadways to and from Belmont Park — potentially crippling traffic.

In addition to the expected congestion on Hempstead Turnpike and the Cross Island Parkway, the planned closure of Plainfield Avenue from Hempstead Turnpike to Vanderwater Avenue from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. is expected to worsen traffic conditions.

Lines are also expected to be long for parking, which will range in price from $40 to $150. Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said all motorists should also expect their cars to be inspected by security personnel.

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