Officials review LIRR’s final statement on 3rd track

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A Long Island Rail Road train pulls into the East Williston station on the Oyster Bay branch. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

Local officials and residents are reviewing the Long Island Rail Road’s final environmental statement for its third track project, whose release brings the plan closer to fruition.

The document, published April 12, contains more details of the $2 billion project’s impacts on noise, traffic, air quality and other topics in response to more than 700 comments on the draft environmental impact statement, released in November.

It also adds elevators and other fixes to make Floral Park’s train station more handicap accessible, a change civic leaders and village officials have requested for months.

Project planners touted the final environmental impact statement, or FEIS, required under state environmental law, as more evidence of the community outreach efforts Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged in January 2016, when he announced the plan to add a third track to 9.8 miles of the LIRR’s Main Line.

“This completely new effort to fix the two-track bottleneck on the LIRR’s Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville is like none that ever came before it — with exhaustive community participation, no residential relocations and significant reductions in noise and improvements in safety for local residents,” LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said in a statement last week.

Some local leaders praised that outreach and the fixes at the Floral Park station.

But two mayors of Main Line villages said they will thoroughly review the document to ensure it answers their questions.

The villages of New Hyde Park, Floral Park and Garden City are having the law firm Beveridge & Diamond and the Vertex Companies, an engineering firm, review the LIRR’s statement to ensure it follows state law. Legal action against the project is still on the table, village officials said.

The Floral Park station upgrades are “not going to change our resolve in making sure that this project doesn’t hurt any of our residents, any of our businesses in this community,” Dominick Longobardi, the village mayor, said.

Project officials have said the third track would be built in three to four years entirely on LIRR property, an effort to make it less intrusive than a plan proposed a decade ago.

The final environmental statement confirms that the project will not take any residential property, will eliminate seven street-level railroad crossings along the corridor, use sound walls to reduce noise and add nearly 2,400 parking spaces. Mineola and New Hyde Park would both get new parking garages in the project.

Some plans for the street-level crossings were changed in response to community feedback, the document says.

In New Hyde Park, where three crossings are located, the Covert Avenue crossing will now be eliminated first, followed by New Hyde Park Road and South 12th Street, which will be permanently closed to cars.

A passenger drop-off lane near New Hyde Park Road has been moved to the north side of the tracks, which local officials preferred to a location on the south side, the document says.

Supporters say these and other elements of the project will improve the quality of life in the corridor once they’re complete, in addition to making LIRR service more reliable by giving trains a route around problems that currently cause delays throughout the railroad system.

Dave Kapell, executive director of the Right Track for Long Island Coalition, a group supporting the project, said the final environmental statement shows further proof of those benefits.

“The process around the EIS was incredibly inclusive, and looking at the new report it’s clear the project team not only listened to the public’s concerns and suggestions, but they established a new level of community engagement and cooperation,” Kapell said in a statement last week.

Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss, who was among eight local officials who endorsed the project last month, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Longobardi and Nadia Holubnyczyj-Ortiz, president of Floral Park’s Hillcrest Civic Association, praised the LIRR’s willingness to hear community leaders’ concerns over the past year.

“This is a very intense, detailed project, but you have to have that kind of relationship,” Holubnyczyj-Ortiz said.

Holubnyczyj-Ortiz, who uses a wheelchair, said she wishes the aging Floral Park station was receiving more extensive renovations. But the efforts to make it compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act are a step forward, she said.

New Hyde Park Mayor Lawrence Montreuil said project planners have listened well to his village’s concerns, but he would have liked to have played a bigger role in developing designs for the street-level crossings and other elements affecting the village.

“The outreach has been limited to giving feedback on their presentations,” Montreuil said.

New Hyde Park is working with Phillips Preiss Grygiel, an urban planning firm, to evaluate changes to the plans that might fit better with the village’s character, he said.

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