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Opinion

What third track means for Long Island

Shoreham railroad station, LIRR 1918. Ken Brady, Port

Shoreham railroad station, LIRR 1918. Ken Brady, Port Jefferson Village Archives Photo Credit: Newsday / Handout

When the two tracks of the LIRR Main Line were built in Nassau County in the 1800s, fewer than 100,000 people were living on Long Island.

Today, the Island’s population is nearly 3 million.

Each day, many of the LIRR’s roughly 300,000 customers ride on the same two tracks that were first envisioned in the 19th Century. It’s often standing room only for rush-hour riders while off-peak riders find trains running less frequently than they need, and those traveling to and from jobs on Long Island often find no trains going their direction during rush hour.

Driving isn’t a great alternative. Frequent bumper-to-bumper traffic has earned our highways nicknames like the “World’s Largest Parking Lot.”

Meanwhile, street-level railroad crossings on the Main Line mean traffic, noise and safety problems for thousands of residents. Tragedies occur at crossings when pedestrians or drivers end up in the paths of oncoming trains.

That needs to change. It’s time to modernize our track system and crossings to make living and working on Long Island more efficient and safer for everyone.

The LIRR is in the early stages of a new project — different from those that came before — that addresses these long-standing issues.

The LIRR Expansion Project will improve efficiency, convenience and comfort for riders and improve traffic, noise and safety for thousands of drivers and pedestrians. It will do this by adding a third track to the Main Line from Hicksville to Floral Park and eliminating seven railroad crossings in the communities along the project’s 9.8-mile route.

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the project in January, he promised community engagement and he has followed through. The project team has held more than 100 meetings — and will hold many more — with public officials, community leaders, and others interested in the project.

Even so, there have been some questions from the public. To address some of the most prominent:

  •  No residential property and little-to-no commercial property will be taken for this project. To achieve this critical goal, all work will be done within the LIRR’s existing right of way.
  • Freight traffic, already below the railroad’s capacity, will remain prohibited on the Main Line during peak times and won’t increase at all as a result of this project.
  • Details, such as the precise alignment of the tracks and noise abatement measures, will be determined as the environmental review process moves forward. We expect to be able to share this information at the end of the summer.

Another set of questions regards how and when the public can give their input. There will be many opportunities to weigh in.

Earlier this month, we released a document outlining the potential impacts to be studied before a final plan is put forward. Since then we’ve been soliciting public comments on that document. This week, we are conducting six public meetings, called “Scoping Meetings,” where anyone can give us in-person feedback. Written comments can also be submitted until June 13 at www.aModernLI.com.

After the public meetings, we will finalize what should be studied, then conduct a formal environmental review process and release what’s known as a “draft environmental impact statement” with more details about the project’s potential impacts and benefits.

Then we’ll hold more public meetings.

We welcome the public’s input. We are listening. So come to the meetings this week, submit your comments in writing, or visit our project office at the Mineola Station’s south platform.

Safe travels.

Patrick Nowakowski is president of the Long Island Rail Road.

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