The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has proposed spending $2 billion to add a third track to a 9.8-mile stretch of its Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville through which 40 percent of train traffic flows on Long Island, modernize LIRR signals, upgrade stations, remove seven dangerous street-level railroad crossings and build noise-deflecting walls, among other improvements.
Republican state senators led by Elaine Phillips, Kemp Hannon and state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) responded two weeks ago by saying they needed more time to think about it.
In the face of Flanagan’s threat to have the proposal blocked, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority resubmitted an amendment to its Capital Program that would fund the $2 billion plan to a state review board last Friday.
Phillips of Flower Hill said resetting the clock gives MTA officials “more time and flexibility to develop a comprehensive solution” to the LIRR’s systemic service problems.
“The decision by the Governor and the MTA to resubmit the amendment and provide more time for the process is the right one,” Phillips said.
This argument might make sense if the project was proposed recently, not more than a year and half ago and had not been accompanied by many months of hearings and talks with local residents and officials.
On Tuesday, most Republican senators apparently agreed, reversing course and signing off on funding for the project.
We’d like to think their decision was based on the merits but politics seems a much more likely explanation for both the decision to withhold funding approval and then to approve it.
Newsday’s The Point newsletter reported Friday that Flanagan, Phillips and Hannon had been pushing Cuomo to grant other requests in exchange for approving the funding, such as more money for hospitals and involvement in a dispute between Nassau and New York City over Queens water wells
In other words, the Republican senators wanted the governor to pay for the privilege of giving $2 billion to upgrade train service on Long Island and prevent the kind of disaster that Long Island commuters now face because Amtrak failed to maintain Penn Station.
The Republicans’ decision to reverse course came after a loud public outcry from business groups, unions, newspaper editorial boards and Democratic elected officials, including Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, state Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) and county Legislator Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Nassau County executive. They called the project essential to Long Island’s economic future. We agree.
Republican officials have repeatedly denied that party politics has played any role in their opposition to the third track, but holes appeared in their story on several occasions, such as when then-New Hyde Park Mayor Robert Lofaro charged that Cuomo was using the $2 billion plan to fuel his political ambitions, including a run for president in 2020.
Phillips and Hannon of Garden City repeatedly cited the opposition of local village officials such as Lofaro to the project in justifying their opposition.
But that argument evaporated last week when the mayors of New Hyde Park and Floral Park, which had been most critical of the Long Island Rail Road’s third track project, said they were now on board.
The mayors said they had finalized memoranda of understanding with planners of the $2 billion project outlining how planners will assuage potential harm to their communities during construction.
Unfortunately, Phillips remains unable to take yes for an answer.
She continued to express “serious concerns” on Tuesday about the project’s impact on nearby residents and said the nearly $2 billion should be spent on more immediate transit needs.
To her credit, Phillips has led the effort to hold Amtrak accountable for its failure to maintain Penn Station’s infrastructure and address a growing ridership — which makes her unwillingness to support the third track project all the more perplexing.
MTA officials have maintained that the third track project will lead to improved and increased LIRR service across Long Island.
And a 2014 Long Island Index study also showed the third track would create 14,000 jobs and add $5.6 billion to Long Island’s gross regional product in the first 10 years.
With the concerns of those who stand to be impacted by the construction addressed, there is no good reason to oppose this project.
We are thankful that most Republicans finally agree. It is now time for Phillips to get on board.
Otherwise, voters may seek to eliminate her commute to Albany.