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Mayor to Cuomo: Give us more time to look at LIRR’s third-track plan

Robert A. Lofaro, mayor of the Village of

Robert A. Lofaro, mayor of the Village of New Hyde Park, speaks during a public meeting on March 3, 2016, about the Long Island Rail Road's proposal to build a third track on the Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The mayor of the Village of New Hyde Park is asking Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to postpone the date by which the public is allowed to weigh in on the Long Island Rail Road’s environmental impact statement regarding its proposed $2 billion expansion, saying residents need more time to absorb details of the complex third-track project.

Mayor Robert A. Lofaro’s request, in a letter to Cuomo dated Nov. 30, noted that the railroad’s 2,200-page draft environmental impact statement sets a Jan. 31 deadline for public comment. The document includes a schedule of public hearings in late January.

Lofaro said he and village board members want the deadline postponed to late March or April, because “the New Hyde Park Village Board feels that the scheduled public hearings and comments deadline does not give the public enough time to thoroughly review this massive document and respond in a thoughtful manner.”

The mayors of two other villages affected by the project — Thomas Tweedy of Floral Park and Nicholas Episcopia of Garden City — agreed the public needs more time.

“They tell us, ‘You people have until Jan. 31 to make comments,’ ” Episcopia said Friday of state officials. “Some of us want to retain special counsel or an engineer to go over this. I told them that this is the most unfair thing I have ever heard of.”

The environmental report, released Monday, outlines a budget and other components for construction of the LIRR’s Main Line expansion, an initiative that will build a third track on LIRR property along 9.8 miles from Floral Park to Hicksville. The 21-chapter document has 673 pages of text and the remaining pages are appendices with databases.

Shams Tarek, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the LIRR, said the 65-day time frame for the public comment is longer than that of other, even larger projects, such as construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge and building of the Second Avenue Subway.

“We welcome the mayor’s feedback and we’re committed to keeping an open line of communication with the community through the life of the project — including through our website, walk-in project office, and at numerous in-person information sessions in the days to come,” Tarek said.

He said MTA officials “will continue to meet with the mayor and the Village Third Track Task Force to discuss the DEIS schedule and specific elements related to New Hyde Park. We also look forward to working with the village to schedule community-based working meetings to review” the draft environmental impact statement.

Officials have said the project is necessary to accommodate larger numbers of reverse commuters — city dwellers who travel to Long Island for work. A third track also would ease congestion by carrying more people and allowing the LIRR to offset service interruptions, such as disabled trains, by being able to provide service when trains are not running on one or two tracks.

In addition, the elimination of seven grade crossings would reduce congestion where tracks intersect with motor vehicle routes and snarl traffic. Proponents also said it would add almost 2,500 parking spaces to LIRR stations along the segment and improve air quality.

The project is supposed to begin next year and last three to four years, the draft report said.

In his letter to the governor, Lofaro added that as the holidays and winter months approach, people will be less inclined to read the documents in the study and absorb its potential impact on their lives.

“This project has been discussed, analyzed, and debated for decades, so I’m sure that a couple of extra months will not be too much of an ask to prove to the public the true commitment of the project sponsor to be open, fair and transparent,” he wrote.

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