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Planned for LIRR: $5.7B for new trains, renovations, modernized switches, signals

The MTA's $51 billion capital plan, which includes

The MTA's $51 billion capital plan, which includes $5.7 billion for the Long Island Rail Road, aims to fund infrastructure maintenance, modernization and expansion projects through 2024. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Wednesday approved a $51 billion infrastructure spending plan that earmarks $5.7 billion for the Long Island Rail Road, including for new trains, station renovations, and modernized switches and signals.

The MTA Board unanimously voted in favor of the proposed five-year MTA Capital Program, which aims to fund infrastructure maintenance, modernization and expansion projects from 2020 through 2024. The plan, approved during a board meeting in Manhattan, is the largest in MTA history, and 70 percent larger than the agency's current five-year plan.

MTA chairman Patrick Foye called it "a historical and transformative day" for the agency, which has struggled to erase its reputation for waste and ineffectiveness in addressing infrastructure needs, including at the 185-year-old LIRR.

The plan must be submitted by Oct. 1 for final approval to the state's four-member Capital Program Review Board, which includes representatives for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Senate majority, the Assembly majority, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The governor said Wednesday that the plan meets the priorities he set forth for the region's transportation network, including by ensuring equity for the LIRR. Cuomo said the level of investment "is extraordinary, but after generations of the MTA being underfunded and mismanaged, it is necessary and will pay dividends for the future of the system."

The plan will be funded through a combination of federal, state and New York City funding, as well as through $25 billion in bonds backed by revenue from the forthcoming congestion pricing toll plan in Manhattan.

For the LIRR, the MTA Capital Program includes $910 million for station upgrades, including new elevators and extended platforms at some stations; $1.02 billion for track work, including for capacity upgrades at Jamaica Station; and $364 million for communications and signal improvements, including to advance a plan to centralize train traffic control operations under one roof.

The plan also includes funding for the LIRR’s Third Track project between Floral Park and Hicksville, and the final dollars for the MTA’s $11.2 billion East Side Access megaproject, which aims to link the LIRR to a new station at Grand Central Terminal via newly bored tunnels by 2022.

“The modernization of the LIRR that has begun in recent years will continue under this program,” LIRR president Phil Eng said in a statement. “Not only will it enable us to continue to accelerate our systemwide core improvements to service safety, accessibility, reliability and comfort, it will enable us to sustain and grow Long Island’s economy and quality of life for the entire region.”

MTA Board member Kevin Law, who represents Suffolk County, praised the plan, even while pointing out that it omitted some projects long sought by Long Island commuters, including expanded electrification of the railroad’s tracks in Suffolk County. He likened it to “waking up on Christmas morning."

“Sometimes that excitement is tempered by the things you didn’t get, and you wanted,” said Law, who expressed optimism that the plan will evolve in the future. “I believe this plan is a living document.”

Sen. James Gaughran (D-Huntington) echoed the call for more electrification, which he called a "critical initiative," and said the LIRR should use some of its funding to increase train frequency on "long-suffering lines," including the Oyster Bay branch.

The Capital Program sailed through the board without any opposition, despite several members pointing out that they had relatively little time to review the full plan, which they only saw for the first time less than a week ago.

“That’s way too late to have discussions with management,” said MTA Board member Susan Metzger, who represents Orange County and has raised concerns about many upstate New York infrastructure priorities being neglected in the proposal. “This plan was conceived in the dark. The transparency that this board has worked for for many years has gone dark.”

Foye acknowledged that the plan "came together late."

"The board should have had more time. There's no question," Foye said. "I'm not going to defend that."

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