After nearly 70 years of recommendations, advocacy and proposals that often lacked political will or funding, the Long Island Rail Road’s third track is finally starting to pull out of the station.
It took too long, but this is an enormous moment for Long Island — one worth savoring before getting to work.
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan announced Tuesday night that he would allow $1.9 billion in LIRR funds for the third track and other improvements to move forward without a veto — along with the rest of the amendments to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital plan.
As we have argued, the addition of a third set of tracks on the Main Line — along with station and signal upgrades, the elimination of seven grade crossings and other improvements — is extraordinarily important to the region’s future. Our economy, job market, home values and safety depend on it.
In recent days, Flanagan finally took on a leadership role by realizing that the best decision was what is best for Long Island, not petty political gamesmanship. It was worth the time spent last month to address the concerns of the villages along the 9.8 miles of track, and it made sense to reach construction-related agreements that, for instance, will protect Floral Park and New Hyde Park during inevitable disruption. But even after all of that, the third track became bogged down in unfortunate political obstruction and bargaining that lasted 11 days too long. It was ugly, but it got done.
The agreement wouldn’t have happened without decades of constant pressure and attention, which gained particular strength in the last couple of years, from key local advocacy groups, especially the Long Island Association, the Rauch Foundation and New York State Laborers. And it wouldn’t have happened without the vision and the persistence of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who believes in the third track and didn’t want the opportunity to slip away.
The plans to make the project happen are in place. The funds are allocated, although state and MTA officials must make sure the money flows and construction stays on budget. As a design-build project, which eliminates some steps by assigning a single team to handle both design and construction, it should be able to move quickly on a path similar to the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge and the renovation of LaGuardia Airport. Cuomo and the MTA should use public-private partnerships when possible, select the most qualified design-build developer and honor the agreements made with local officials.
We know there will be inconveniences and difficulties. And along with the residents on the Main Line, we will keep watch that the MTA and the state stay on schedule, meet the neighborhoods’ needs and keep their promises.
The approval of the third track shows us that Long Island is able to think and act in big ways, to plan for our future, to help shape a new region that can meet its challenges.
Here’s hoping it’s just the start. — The editorial board