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Diving into the summer of hell
Long Island Rail Road riders’ descent into the circles of hell begins Monday.
But new Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota is ready — armed with ferries, buses, new train cars and a new website (lirrsummerschedule.com).
On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Lhota exuded confidence, saying the MTA is providing “an abundance of choice” for LIRR riders, and encouraging them to take the train, rather than their own cars.
From Monday through Sept. 1, LIRR service will be reduced by up to 20 percent while Amtrak makes emergency repairs on tracks in Penn Station. Lhota promised to closely monitor the repairs and to keep commuters updated on Amtrak’s progress.
While MTA interim Executive Director Veronique Hakim was also on the call, it was clear that Lhota was taking the lead, promising improved and constant communication and assuring riders that the MTA could handle this.
Lhota’s first real test — and commuters’ first ride into the underworld — comes Monday morning.
Randi F. Marshall
Sky-high construction prices at MacArthur
The potential price tag of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection station and a new terminal on the north side of Long Island MacArthur Airport is now known, and it’s not cheap.
A consultant hired by the Town of Islip put the cost at $72.5 million for an 18,000-square-foot terminal with two gates that would allow for international flights.
Adding gates, however, is relatively inexpensive — another $400,000 to get up to 14 gates, or an additional $1.1 million to have 26 gates.
But there’s also the cost of getting people from this new terminal to the Ronkonkoma train station. Although the station would now be close to the tracks, it still would be a trip of about one-third of a mile.
The multinational engineering firm AECOM analyzed three options — a shuttle bus system, which would cost $1.2 million; a moving sidewalk, $60 million; and an automated people mover train, the priciest option at $135 million.
But there are only commitments from state, Suffolk County and town sources for $26.25 million for the new customs facility and connections to the train station.
All of which is why MacArthur Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken says the customs facility will be located, at least for the short term, in the existing terminal.
Against the evidence
The push to imprison drug offenders is rising again.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rejected the bipartisan sentiment in Congress to ease federal drug prosecutions with a letter to U.S. attorneys saying drug offenses should be prosecuted as harshly as possible.
Bills to combat the opioid epidemic faltered during the recent legislative session in New York because the GOP-controlled Senate reverted to focusing on increased law enforcement, prosecution and penalties instead of going along with the Democratic-controlled Assembly, which prioritized treatment and prevention.
But the tough-on-crime approach is not supported by the evidence. A recent 50-state study from The Pew Charitable Trust’s public safety performance project found that stiffer prison terms do not effectively deter drug use, distribution and other drug-law violations.
In a letter to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is heading the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, Pew said it “compared state drug offender imprisonment rates with three important measures of state drug problems: self-reported drug use rates (excluding marijuana), drug arrest rates, and drug overdose death rates. The analysis found no statistically significant relationship between drug imprisonment and those indicators.”
The drug debate is a highly emotional one, and pledges to crack down have often been quite popular. This too, though, is changing, according to Pew. A poll conducted last year found that nearly 80 percent of Americans favored ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.