The Long Island Rail Road’s long-anticipated venture to build a third track for its Main Line in Nassau County begins late this year with 10 major construction projects that will initiate the transformation of the busiest stretch of the nation’s busiest commuter railroad.
Station renovations, bridge replacements, grade crossing eliminations and a new parking garage are among the first items on the to-do list of the team behind the LIRR Expansion — the formal name of the $2.6 billion project, which the LIRR says will allow them to more easily bounce back from service disruptions on its Main Line and provide enough capacity to run extra trains, including for riders going in the reverse direction during rush hours. Supporters also say the project will increase property values and create jobs on Long Island.
“I think this is, arguably, the most ambitious infrastructure project on Long Island since Robert Moses,” said Dave Kapell, executive director of the Right Track for Long Island Coalition — a third track advocacy group. “It’s a hugely, hugely impactful project. I can’t wait for it to start.”
In some ways, it already has. Although what the LIRR calls “heavy construction” will not begin until this fall, workers have already begun laying the groundwork for the megaproject, including removing asbestos at some work sites. Earlier this month, crews also began relocating utility lines near the Covert Avenue grade crossing in New Hyde Park — one of seven crossings set for elimination.
The LIRR Expansion project, scheduled for completion in early 2023, encompasses about 50 different efforts in total. Mark Roche, the project’s chief executive, predicted 2019 will be “probably the busiest year” for construction.
“The community wanted this early, so we’re making it happen,” Roche said. “The contractor has set up the forces to start up all along the corridor as quickly as possible. You’ll see work going on along all 9.8 miles next year.”
“These projects won’t just reduce delays and expand ridership – they’ll also strengthen economic development opportunities and growth across the region,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement Friday.
MTA board member Mitchell Pally of Stony Brook acknowledged that the prospect of prolonged road closures and other construction impacts is daunting to residents in some communities. However, Pally said he’s hopeful that when the project is complete, “they will realize that they’re better off.”
“The project is going to happen,” Pally said. “The way to finish it as quickly as possible is to start as quickly as possible.”
Here is a look at the first 10 projects on tap. Railroad officials have said the dates and order of the projects are subject to change, but the total construction time for the 10 projects ranges from 12 to 18 months.
1. Cherry Lane bridge replacement
The 65-year-old bridge, which carries trains over Cherry Lane in Carle Place, needs to be widened to accommodate a third track. The railroad also plans to raise the bridge, which currently has a 12-foot clearance, by 2 feet — reducing the likelihood of trucks striking it. They said the bridge has been the site of many such accidents over the years, “resulting in train delays in both directions while LIRR crews worked to determine the bridge’s safety and structural stability before restoring train service.”
2. Mineola Harrison parking structure
To address existing parking demands, and in anticipation of growing ridership, the LIRR plans to build a five-level, 551-space parking garage at Mineola station, west of Mineola Boulevard between Harrison Avenue and First Street. The garage will replace an existing lot and add 446 total spaces at Mineola. The railroad said the garage will serve both LIRR commuters and people working and visiting downtown Mineola.
3. Carle Place station renovation
The LIRR’s Carle Place station, originally built in 1837 and refurbished in 1990, will be completely overhauled as part of the overall project. The improvements will include replacement of existing platforms to accommodate 12-car trains; a new elevator; new platform canopies, benches, shelters and signs, security cameras and handicapped accessible ramps; Wi-Fi capabilities; USB charging stations and digital information displays. The LIRR said the upgrades “will be important to accommodate a future increase in ridership” at Carle Place, which now serves about 900 customers on an average weekday. LIRR officials said, under the agreement, the contractor may close the station for up to a year, but efforts are being made to keep it from being closed at all.
4. Covert Avenue crossing elimination
Winter, early 2019
The Covert Avenue grade in New Hyde Park is the first in line of seven crossings to be eliminated. Under the plan, Covert Avenue will be re-routed under the LIRR’s tracks in a new two-lane underpass with a pedestrian sidewalk on the east side. Railroad officials said the elimination of all seven crossings will provide several benefits, including reducing noise pollution from train horns, traffic back-ups while gates are lowered, and crossing accidents involving trains striking cars or pedestrians. In addition to road closures, the crossing projects will require relocating some privately owned businesses nearby.
5. Mineola station renovation
Used by 14,000 customers daily, Mineola is one of LIRR’s busiest stations, serving trains on four branches and abutting the Mineola Intermodal Center bus facility. The renovation will include replacement of the existing station platforms to accommodate 12-car trains; refurbishing the station building; new platform canopies and other furnishings; cameras, Wi-Fi, charging stations and signs. The LIRR will also replace the pedestrian overpass with a new one that will include two new elevators. The existing overpass will remain during construction, but Main Street will be temporarily closed.
6. Floral Park station elevator
Among the last tasks added to the LIRR Expansion project was the addition of new elevators at Floral Park. The station was originally built 140 years ago and was elevated in 1960. Floral Park community residents, including advocates for the disabled, have long called for the addition of an elevator at the station to make it handicapped accessible.
7. Tyson Avenue bridge
The 60-year-old bridge that carries trains over South Tyson Avenue in Floral Park will be modified to include a new two-track bay bridge. It will also be raised to 14 feet from the existing clearance of 11 feet, 10 inches. “The new bridge’s height clearance will allow trucks to safely pass underneath,” the LIRR said. Railroad officials say they will use the same method employed in the replacement of the Post Avenue Bridge in Westbury, which was completed over a single weekend.
8. Meadowbrook Parkway bridge modification
The bridge, owned by the New York State Department of Transportation, carries the LIRR Main Line across the Meadowbrook Parkway in Carle Place. It will be widened to accommodate a third track. The 62-year-old bridge will keep its existing height clearance of 13 feet, 2 inches.
9. Plainfield Avenue bridge
The 60-year-old LIRR bridge, which runs over Plainfield Avenue in Floral Park, will get a new single-track span to accommodate a third track. It will also be elevated to 14 feet, from its current clearance of 12 feet, 9 inches, to reduce the potential for trucks to strike the bridge.
10. Urban Avenue crossing
Winter, late 2019
The LIRR grade crossing at Urban Avenue in New Cassel is the second of seven crossings to be eliminated. The new design will take cars under the railroad’s tracks through a two-way underpass with a pedestrian sidewalk on the west side. With crossing gates currently being down up to 35 percent of the time during the morning and evening rush hours, LIRR officials said eliminating the crossing will significantly reduce traffic congestion. The need for grade crossing elimination is further illustrated by the fact that there were six fatal crashes at grade crossing locations in the LIRR Main Line corridor between 2007 to 2017, the LIRR said.