The Long Island Rail Road, trying to avoid delays in its $2.6 billion Third Track project, is considering building a temporary rail bridge in Garden City that would allow it to circumvent the ongoing legal battle with the village over required work permits, MTA officials said Thursday.
The announcement came after the Incorporated Village of Garden City on Monday appealed a court ruling ordering the village to grant the LIRR the permits necessary to move ahead with the replacement of the Denton Avenue bridge — a critical component of the railroad's ongoing effort to construct a 10-mile-long third track between Floral Park and Hicksville.
The LIRR and the village have been feuding over the placement of several 90-foot utility poles that residents say are too close to their homes. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR’s parent organization — has said the village has withheld permits needed for the replacement of a rail bridge across Denton Avenue as retaliation.
The village has said the railroad did not follow the proper review process for its proposed redesign of the roadway below the bridge. State Supreme Court Justice Helen Voutsinas, in her ruling last week, said the bridge replacement could go forward separate from the roadway redesign.
In its appeal, the village argued, among other things, that "the Supreme Court erred by determining (the LIRR's) bridge replacement project is not inextricably intertwined with the redesign of the roadway below."
The appeal effectively buys the village more time before potentially being forced to issue the permit, and also vacates an order by Voutsinas preventing the village from interfering with the bridge project. MTA officials said they don’t expect arguments to be heard on the appeal until some time during the first quarter of next year.
"This continued use of the courts to intentionally delay the entire project by one mayor of one village — because among other excuses he doesn’t want a sidewalk for pedestrians — is just outrageous," Third Track project executive Anthony Tufano said.
MTA officials have, for months, hinted about a possible end-run around the permit process. In their latest legal filing, they revealed their Plan B: building a temporary bridge, adjacent to the existing structure, on LIRR property that would carry the third track. The authority expects to make a decision on whether move forward with that plan in the next few weeks.
The goal of the temporary structure would be to keep the Third Track project on pace to meet its targeted December 2022 completion date.
In an affidavit signed Wednesday, Tufano said the temporary bridge would cost an additional $10 million, would prolong construction in the village, and delay the completion of the ongoing renovation of Merillon Avenue station. The MTA would eventually have to go back and demolish the temporary bridge and carry out the original bridge replacement project once it had the permits to do so. The total added cost would be around $50 million.
Tufano said in the affidavit that the backup plan is "far from the preferred option," but to avoid further delays, the MTA "would have no choice but to pursue this costly alternative."
Village officials have not responded to repeated requests for comments about the case. In a message posted on the village’s website on Dec. 1, Mayor Cosmo Veneziale said the MTA has "refused to provide" documents needed for the village to consider its application for the bridge work permits.
He also said the MTA "has repeatedly misled the local municipalities and their residents affected and ignored their obligations imposed by law" regarding the utility poles.
Village officials and residents have said the railroad told them the utility poles would be erected on the north side of the tracks near Merillon Avenue, in a largely industrial area. Instead, the poles were put up on the south side, across the street from some homes. The LIRR has said — and a court ruling agreed — that it made no promises about where the poles would go.
Garden City homeowner Richard Corrao Jr., a member of Resident Voters Against Monster Poles — a group that has fought with the railroad over the utility poles — said the LIRR's attempt to work around the law with a temporary bridge is more evidence that it prioritizes the project's schedule over residents' concerns.
"The LIRR and the MTA would apparently rather spend $50 million than come to the table and talk to Garden City about its legitimate grievances," Corrao said.