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Long IslandTransportationLIRR

LIRR 3rd track hearings gets mixed responses in Westbury, Hicksville

Poonam Punj of the LIRR, left, Phillip Eng

Poonam Punj of the LIRR, left, Phillip Eng of the NYSDOT, center, and Donna Betty, also of the LIRR, listen to community members during a round of hearings held in Wesbury by the Long Island Railroad to solicit community feedback for a proposed third track from Floral Park to Hicksville, May 25, 2016. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Sentiment for the Long Island Rail Road’s proposal to build a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville was mixed at the final public hearing of the week in Hicksville, where laborers, union leaders and representatives of higher education institutions, tech firms, planning groups and government agencies implored the LIRR to proceed.

In contrast to the Wednesday evening hearing, a morning meeting in Westbury was far more positive about the third track.

Chaminade High School student Owen White said at the Hicksville hearing the added train capacity would help him get to his classes in the morning, and to visit friends across the Island on weekends, a challenge currently because of the infrequent off-peak service at his home station of Greenlawn.

“The third track will help with all the congestion and delays and make life easier for students and residents alike,” White said.

Others said that they were all for some aspects of the proposed project, like the elimination of seven railroad grade crossings, but had concerns about the project’s impact, including to the already overflowing parking areas in Hicksville, the LIRR’s busiest station in Nassau.

Elaine Philip, mayor of the Village of Flower Hill and a representative of the Nassau County Village Officials Association, spoke in opposition of “a plan that does not exist.” She blasted the state and the LIRR for withholding essential details, like where construction would begin, how long it would take and how it would affect LIRR service.

“When we get on the Long Island Rail Road, we know where we’re going. But right now, ladies and gentlemen, you’re asking these people to get on the Long Island Rail Road when they don’t know their destination,” Phillip said.

Earlier, a morning public hearing in Westbury had a largely receptive audience.

Supporters of the $1 billion plan outnumbered opponents at both sessions, though there was far less support in the evening hearing. The morning session drew about 100 people to the Yes We Can Community Center in the New Cassel neighborhood, just across the street from the affected tracks. About 150 people filtered in and out of the evening hearing at the Antun’s by Minar catering hall.

Outside the Westbury hearing, an electronic billboard truck parked on the curb expressed a labor union’s support for the “right track.”

“I’m here to tell you we’ve outgrown this place. We need it. We need the jobs,” said John Shepard, a Building and Construction Trades Council official and self-described fifth-generation Long Islander, who encouraged the railroad to expand the third track proposal to other parts of the system. “If you want to do it in Huntington and on the North Shore, we could use it, and we could use the jobs.”

The event was the fifth of six such public hearings being held this week on Long Island.

The hearings aim to gather the public’s input as the railroad embarks on an environmental review of the project, which officials say will allow the railroad to run more trains to serve its booming ridership and help it more easily bounce back from service disruptions.

LIRR rider Tammy Stark agreed that “the time is now to build a third track,” which she said would benefit Long Island’s economy as well as her own hourlong commute.

“If you have ever seen the standing-room-only crowds on peak trains, you would know that we are badly in need of improvements on the tracks,” Stark, an attorney, said. “Long Island simply cannot stay competitive without an improved rail system.”

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