The story in Newsday: Plans to build a third track for the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line in Nassau County had been shelved.
The date: Feb. 23, 1988.
That setback 28 years ago was followed by many more starts and stops, the context for yesterday’s stunning announcement by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that the third track finally will be built. Our support for the project never has wavered, but our cynicism is hard-won. We could say we’ll believe it when we see it. But the governor committed in 2011 to another essential, fiercely fought project and now a new Tappan Zee Bridge is rising over the Hudson River. So we applaud Cuomo, and implore him and all of Long Island’s leaders to push vigorously to make this critically needed expansion of the LIRR a reality.
Its story is the story of latter-day Long Island: big projects with the potential to transform the region grounded on the shoals of local opposition. For too long, the third track was a political third rail, ferociously resisted because more than 200 properties along the Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville would lose land to accommodate it.
But Cuomo’s new plan cleverly mitigates the property loss. By shifting the existing two lines in some places, most of the new track could be built within the existing right of way. Twenty homes and 30 businesses would see an average incursion of 5 feet. The design will include noise abatement. Owners would be compensated appropriately, and could sell their land to the state if they prefer. Some still would find that hard, and we don’t mean to minimize the emotional difficulty. But the tremendous benefits the third track offers Long Island as a whole have become increasingly clear.
It’s an economic game-changer. It would reduce commuting delays, offer better intra-Island transit and more service, especially to Grand Central Terminal, and expand reverse commuting from New York City. As Long Island moves toward a future based on its research facilities and biotech firms, it is critical that companies know they can attract skilled workers from the city, and that those workers know Long Island is a viable place to work.
In that vein, the third track is one piece of an ambitious remake of the region’s transportation infrastructure Cuomo pitched yesterday at a meeting of the Long Island Association, including full funding of a customs facility at Long Island MacArthur Airport to allow international travel, and $6 million for feasibility studies on a tunnel across Long Island Sound and a deepwater port in Shoreham. All would be strong steps forward. Cuomo wants to begin work on the third track immediately, including community outreach. Construction should start in 2018. And he has committed to providing the necessary funding — as much as $1.5 billion — via the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital program.
Long Island’s State Senate delegation can make a statement about the region’s future by supporting this project. Cuomo evoked other big projects, like Jones Beach and the Long Island Expressway, that helped create Long Island, and he said such ambition must be reignited or the region is doomed. We agree. We no longer want to write headlines that this project has been derailed. It’s the future of the LIRR, and with it, Long Island, and it must arrive on time.