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LIRR major projects still on track

East Side Access is the project that will

East Side Access is the project that will bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal. Credit: MTA

Daily Point

No rest for the MTA

The work continues.

Even as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority amid the time of coronavirus attempts to maintain daily commuter rail, subway and bus service, work on key projects hasn’t let up.

That includes the Long Island Rail Road’s third track, and the East Side Access connection to Grand Central Terminal.

MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber told the MTA board during a virtual meeting Wednesday that his Construction & Development team has been able to continue its work despite supply shortages and a reduced workforce. They’re using an app to manage the projects remotely, and address staff or supply issues, Lieber said. 

But new projects and any new contracts are on hold for at least 60 days, Lieber said. That includes plans to build elevators at subway stations and upgrades to multiple subway lines. That hold could be lifted depending on whether the MTA gets the $3.9 billion in additional federal funds the authority is seeking.

The MTA also reported Wednesday that 83 employees, most of whom were New York City transit workers, have died as a result of the coronavirus. Lieber noted that the MTA’s internal Construction & Development team has remained mostly well, with only nine positive cases out of a workforce of more than 700.

Construction & Development chief of staff John McCarthy told The Point that the LIRR third track work includes the grade crossing elimination at New Hyde Park Road, where the MTA hopes to install a new rail bridge in July, so the road can reopen by September. As for East Side Access, McCarthy said there were times when work had to halt at East Side Access due to some positive coronavirus cases among contract workers that required temporary closures and cleaning. But now, work continues in the cavern beneath Grand Central Terminal, and workers are using GoPro cameras to allow project managers and others to inspect the work and keep an eye on the project from afar. 

“It’s moving forward,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “We don’t want to lose time. We’re allowed to work as long as we’re doing it safely, and that’s how we’re proceeding.”

During the board meeting, LIRR president Phil Eng pointed to platform repairs at the LIRR’s St. Albans stop in Queens, preparations for a new employee facility at the mid-Suffolk yard east of Ronkonkoma, work on a Freeport substation, and superstorm Sandy rehabilitation on signals and more at Long Beach. He also noted that workers were able to complete necessary concrete tie replacements on the Ronkonkoma line.

“It’s imperative that we continue to deliver on key expansion projects as well,” Eng said, pointing to the work on third track and East Side Access.

Even the efforts to establish new safety technology on the LIRR, known as positive train control, are expected to meet the federal December 2020 deadline, Eng said.

But there’s one thing that might not stay on schedule. MTA chief executive Pat Foye said during a news conference after the board meeting that it’s “unlikely” that the tolling of Manhattan’s central business district will start up in January 2021.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Veterans nursing home letters chronicle evolving crisis

When former Great Neck State Assemb. Michelle Schimel’s 96-year-old father, Howard Extract, passed away this week, Schimel had nothing but praise for the Long Island State Veterans Home, where he lived for the past seven years. She says his care had been extraordinarily good, the attention he received astonishingly personal, and the communication from the home refreshingly clear. 

That last is a rarity right now.

Across Long Island and New York, many nursing homes have dropped the ball on communication with the loved ones of residents and on transparency about the way the coronavirus is affecting their facilities.

But the Long Island State Veterans Home has been unusually dedicated to sharing its increasingly devastating news. As of Tuesday evening, 46 residents of the 350-bed facility had died of the disease, and another 51 residents had tested positive for the virus. In addition, 53 members of the 675-person staff had confirmed cases.

The home’s missives to families and public, 13 of them so far, paint a vivid and startling picture of how this pandemic has evolved, from assurances that the home had no confirmed cases to condolences to its many grieving families.

Read the full story here.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

An Earth Day tale

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Final Point

Earth Day goes viral

For environmentalists, Earth Day is an annual high point, an opportunity to expand the environmental coalition by reaching out beyond those active in the task of protecting the planet.

But in the year of the coronavirus, with social distancing and sheltering in place, the highly anticipated 50th anniversary of Earth Day is a more “somber” occasion, as several local environmentalists put it.

“This originally was planned to be a giant day of recognizing the environmental movement and now it’s barely a fizzle,” Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito told The Point. “Some of the groups had cleanups planned, nature walks, environmental announcements, lobby days, none of which is happening. So it’s strange and it’s also disheartening.”

Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, cited increased online engagement in calling the day “Virtual Earth Day.”

“There is much higher engagement than normally, everybody is home on their computers, it’s different and interesting,” Tighe said, while acknowledging that it’s not clear how much of the audience are people not already involved in the environmental movement. “As far as activists go, it’s different, these different ways of engaging. We’re a lot more relying on social media and Facebook, but I think people are still interested in this.”

Adding to the sense of a world off-kilter: In shutting factories and taking cars and trucks off roads, the virus is indirectly making the air cleaner, seen perhaps most profoundly in India, where people in smog-riddled cities are breathing more deeply and some Indians can finally see clearly the Himalayas. And the animal world is reclaiming space vacated by sheltering humans, with wild goats roaming through a town in Wales, coyotes trotting through San Francisco, and boars spotted in Barcelona. 

“The lesson is not that the air improves with pandemics,” said Kevin McDonald of The Nature Conservancy. “The lesson is that nature is more resilient than most of us think.”    

There has been another upside to the virus, McDonald said. The Nature Conservancy runs the Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island, a 2,039-acre jewel of tidal creeks, forests, fields and marshes crisscrossed with trails. McDonald said the preserve is getting more visitors these days, appropriately social-distanced on trails looping in one direction, and that nature itself has been the draw.

“For people, it’s been really important to be out, and they all have a look on their face: Are we going to be OK?” McDonald said. “In that respect, nature has been reaffirming, it’s been reenergizing, and it’s been, for some, hopeful.”

That’s a message that resonates on any Earth Day.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

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