The last of the eight rail grade crossings pegged for elimination as part of the LIRR’s Third Track project closed on Friday — a project officials said will increase safety, but also require motorists to find other ways to get across the tracks.
The Long Island Rail Road closed traffic at the Main Street grade crossing in Mineola — one of three crossings in the village being eliminated as part of the LIRR’s $2.6 billion effort to construct a third railroad track on its Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville.
"This marks a total of eight grade crossings removed on time and on budget since 2019 and is emblematic of our commitment to enhancing public safety, while also improving the quality of life for Long Islanders by reducing noise, air and traffic pollution," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.
Unlike most of the other crossing eliminations, the LIRR is not creating an underpass for vehicles to travel under its tracks at the former crossing site. Instead, cars will have to divert to Mineola Boulevard or Willis Avenue, both within a quarter-mile from Main Street, to get across the tracks. The railroad is constructing a pedestrian bridge with elevators for people looking to cross at Main Street on foot.
Despite the added inconvenience to some, project officials said the crossing elimination will improve quality of life for nearby residents and motorists, including by eliminating the noise of train horns and crossing bells and traffic backups. During peak travel hours, crossing safety gates were down 53% of the time, officials said.
Jettisoning the crossings also will prevent accidents at the intersections, including those caused by cars going around downed gates. The LIRR said there were seven fatal crossing accidents along the Third Track project’s 10-mile corridor between 2007 and 2017.
"Each crossing elimination represents one fewer potential point of interaction with roadway traffic," LIRR president Phillip Eng said. "It means enhanced safety, and it also means enhanced reliability for our customers."
The Third Track broke ground in 2018. Supporters of the project, which is scheduled for completion by late 2022, said the added capacity will allow the railroad to increase service, and to more easily bounce back from unplanned service disruptions.
Removing the grade crossing was a key selling point in the efforts by the state and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to win local support for the Third Track project, which had been stymied for years by residents' concerns about the impact from construction.