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OpinionEditorial

A decade later, public is more accepting of LIRR third track

Morning commuters crowd platform as they wait

Morning commuters crowd platform as they wait for a westbound train at the LIRR Mineola station, Jan. 25, 2016. Service was erratic due to conditions caused by the severe winter storm over the weekend. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Supporters of the Long Island Rail Road’s plan to add a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville were ready for outrage and uproar at six public comment sessions this week. But what they heard were sensible questions about how the project would be handled, how communities would be protected and how best to move Long Island forward. Even from those who had qualms, there was more constructive criticism than obstructionist rage.

About a decade ago, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority tried to sell a similar plan and was rejected. But times have changed. And the $1 billion project being pushed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo takes less from residents whose property abuts the tracks and offers more to communities along the line, including the elimination of seven dangerous grade crossings where trains frequently jam traffic.

At a meeting in Hicksville on Wednesday, a leader of a local civic organization said he objected to the original plan largely because it took so much private property, but he is far more open to this one, which does not. He wants the Hicksville station renovated, a project that’s been promised for years but was moved forward Wednesday by Cuomo and the MTA. He wants the improvements done right, but fears they won’t be. He wants to know what will be done to solve parking problems at that station, the busiest on Long Island, when more trains are enabled by a third track. And he wants to know what will be done to entice crowds at the station to spend a little money with local merchants. These are good questions.

Another speaker talked about the dangers of the Bethpage grade crossing at Stewart Avenue, the deadliest crossing in the tri-state area, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, with six fatalities since 1975, and he had a different concern: When will the MTA eliminate the grade crossing there that is not a part of this project but has taken many lives? Again, a good question. Will the LIRR and the state eliminate these most dangerous crossings only when doing so dovetails with some other plan they need to sell?

Most of the angriest people demanded more specific plans. That’s a very reasonable request, but also a premature one at this point.

There were the usual cheerleaders, who said what we’d expect: the Island needs this third track for many reasons — to stay vibrant, to allow workers to come and go, to create a reverse commute that bolsters business development, to maintain property values, to make it a place young people don’t flee, and to reduce traffic. This is all true.

But an even grander vision about what this project and enhanced transit in general could mean to Long Island came from two high school students who take the train to Mineola to attend Chaminade High School, and farther west to attend games and cultural events in New York City, but often have few trains to choose from.

They imagine Long Island as a place where public transit would allow easy travel both on and off the Island, and within it. They imagine roads less congested because of those options.

That’s a Long Island that could thrive. Of late, more and more people appear ready to embrace that future. — The editorial board

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