48° Good Morning
48° Good Morning

On the line over MTA poles

Utility poles at Merillon Ave and Nassau Blvd

Utility poles at Merillon Ave and Nassau Blvd in Garden City, as seen on June 22, 2020. Credit: chris ware

The fight over steel utility poles that have risen in the village of Garden City comes down to a sad, old refrain:

They’re on the “wrong” side of the tracks.

The complaints coming from village residents and Town of Hempstead officials, and the threats of legal action, are unfortunate and unfounded. The poles are a minor, but important part of the Long Island Rail Road’s third-track expansion project, and they’ve been a part of the plan for three years. There will be more than 90 of them, at various heights and in communities along the 9.8-mile stretch of the Main Line. 

Yet, the complaints — only from Garden City — pour in now. Residents say the poles are an eyesore, that they’re too tall and don’t belong. They say they expected the poles to be placed on the north side of the railroad tracks. And they claim there was no communication about any of it.

But the reality is different. The steel poles, built to withstand storms like superstorm Sandy, are exactly what was outlined in environmental studies three years ago. They were described then as “approximately 90 feet high.” The tallest new poles are about 93 feet above ground. Recently, an e-blast to residents detailed the plans, complete with photos.

In other words, village residents knew what they were getting.

As for the side of the tracks, early records said exact locations would be determined “on a case-by-case basis.” Later, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s plans had indeed placed the poles on the north side. Eventually, the MTA and its contractors determined some had to be on the south side, partly to fulfill their promise not to use private land.

That was the right decision. And, contrary to claims that no one knew, representatives of the village’s third-track committee were briefed as early as last September on the possibility that poles would be placed on the south side of the tracks.

The recent reaction from the village, and from Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin, is disappointing, the threats of litigation unhelpful. Clavin, who never attended a third-track hearing, should better familiarize himself with the project before he tries to jeopardize its on-time and on-budget success to date.

The third track is critical to the region’s future, especially as the reverse commute may become more enticing, while others may choose to move to Long Island. Those who are worried about what a steel pole on the tracks’ south side — about 75 feet across from the north side — does to the look of a village are attempting to stop the project’s progress and damaging the region’s future.

Still, the MTA and the partnership responsible for the project, 3rd Track Constructors, should have more explicitly informed the community about the specific locations of the poles when that was decided, and should do that going forward, to avoid claims of surprise. Communication has been a strength of the project and it must remain so.

But no matter what, the project itself must remain on track.

— The editorial board