The LIRR's third track would run between Floral Park and...

The LIRR's third track would run between Floral Park and Hicksville. An LIRR train is seen coming into the Floral Park station on June 14, 2016. Credit: Chuck Fadely

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has approved a $1.9 billion contract for the design and construction of a third track on the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line from Floral Park to Hicksville.

The vote Wednesday, after debate over the project’s cost and other fiscal concerns, marked the culmination of decades of efforts by the railroad to boost capacity through the bottlenecked segment of its Main Line, through which about half of all LIRR customers travel.

MTA board member Mitchell Pally of Stony Brook, who has spearheaded the push on the board for a third track, thanked board members, elected officials and other project supporters “for understanding, albeit a little late, but finally understanding the importance of this project to us.”

The 9.8-mile new track will be built entirely on the LIRR’s existing property and will come with other proposed benefits, including the elimination of seven grade crossings, several station renovations and six new parking garages. Construction is expected to begin next year and take up to four years.

The contract was awarded to a joint venture known as 3rd Track Constructors, which includes Dragados USA Inc., John P. Picone Inc., Halmar International LLC and CCA Civil Inc.

Proponents say the LIRR Expansion Project, as it is formally known, will transform the LIRR — the busiest commuter railroad in the nation — by increasing capacity and providing more flexibility to bounce back from unplanned service disruptions.

Reading a statement by Long Island Association president Kevin Law, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive-elect Laura Curran, LIA spokesman Matthew Cohen called the effort “the most important infrastructure project the MTA has ever proposed for Long Island.” Supporters have said the project could add $6 billion to the Island’s economy and create 14,000 jobs.

Still, several MTA board members expressed concern over the prospect of taking on another multibillion-dollar “mega-project” while still dealing with the ballooning costs and growing delays for other projects, including the $10.2 billion East Side Access plan to link the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal.

Board member Andrew Saul said the agency was being “eaten alive by these runaway projects,” while struggling with deteriorating service.

“A lot of this happened because we have diverted billions upon billions upon billions of dollars to these projects.”

Some board members expressed reluctance to approve the contract without a plan to cash in on the increased property values for private land around the LIRR’s right of way.

Credit: MTA

James Vitiello — the only board member to abstain from voting on the project — questioned the wisdom of passing a project that he said will cost the MTA about $90,000 for each of the 140,000 riders expected to use the third track.

“It’s not that we shouldn’t do these projects, but we need to find ways to lower their cost,” he said. “And we need to institute meaningful ways to find value capture, and in my opinion we shouldn’t undertake another multibillion-dollar project anywhere until we do.”

Board member and New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg also expressed reluctance in voting for the project, which she said commits “a big chunk of capital dollars that are not going toward fixing the New York City subways.”

MTA chairman Joe Lhota pointed out that the funds for the project were already committed when the board approved an amendment to the MTA’s five-year capital program in May. He said any discussion of whether the agency should go forward with the project “really should have taken place at the time.”

Lhota also rejected the notion that the project will only benefit Long Islanders.

“On the Main Line, there are two tracks. In the morning both tracks are being used for people to go in, and therefore nobody in the reverse commute can come out,” Lhota said. “That has a big impact on the economy for the people who live in the city, as well as people out on the Island.”

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