Thousands of Long Island commuters returning to work Monday morning rode over a rail bridge in New Hyde Park that wasn’t there last week, thanks to a weekend construction project that had its share of “drama,” LIRR officials said.
Private contractors and Long Island Rail Road crews worked together Saturday and Sunday to install a 1,200-ton bridge at the former site of the Covert Avenue grade crossing in New Hyde Park. The bridge installation — the last of four to take place this summer — is part of the railroad’s $2.6 billion effort to construct a third track on its Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville.
Janno Lieber, chief development officer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the project was designed and constructed by private contracting firm 3TC. After closing the grade crossing in April, workers excavated the land on the north side of the LIRR’s tracks, then built the bridge inside the 25-foot deep crater.
With railroad service suspended on the Main Line on Saturday and Sunday, crews — assisted by drones — hurried to remove the railroad tracks, dig out the earth beneath them, and then push in the prefabricated bridge using hydraulic jacks.
Over two hours, workers nudged the structure in small increments over about 50 feet until they moved it into position.
LIRR crews then rebuilt the tracks and reinstalled supporting systems in time for service to be restored between Hicksville and New Hyde Park by around 5 a.m. Monday.
“Everybody knows the clock is ticking until the rush hour starts,” Lieber said. “There’s a lot of drama associated with these particular activities.”
Third Track project executive Mark Roche said the project would have taken a year or more had workers used traditional bridge construction methods.
“It’s a unique operation, and now that we’ve done it a few times, we’re probably going to become the experts on it,” Roche said. “It’s quite nice to be at the forefront of these types of things.”
Covert Avenue will reopen this fall as a two-lane underpass, with a pedestrian sidewalk, running under the LIRR’s tracks. It’s one of seven grade crossings to be eliminated as part of the Third Track project, which railroad officials said will increase capacity through a bottlenecked portion of the Main Line, allowing the railroad to run more trains and more easily bounce back from service disruptions.
Eliminating the grade crossings also will reduce noise pollution from train horns, cut traffic congestion and improve safety, project officials have said.
LIRR president Phillip Eng, who visited the Covert Avenue site Saturday and Sunday, said "We are making just huge efforts, and huge strides, that are going to make the Long Island Rail Road’s capabilities so much better in the future.”
In July, crews eliminated the crossing at Urban Avenue in Westbury, installing a bridge in its place. A similar effort is scheduled to take place at the Nassau Boulevard crossing in Garden City in October.