MTA board adds 3rd track funding to Capital Program

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

The Long Island Rail Road’s third track project was added to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s long-term capital plan Wednesday, officially giving the plan a funding source.

The MTA Board of Directors approved an amendment to the 2015-2019 Capital Program allocating $1.95 billion for the plan to build a third track on the LIRR’s Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville.

The amendment also includes funding for other work, such as $700 million for the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway, and increases the total value of the Capital Program to $32.457 billion. The state’s Capital Program Review Board must unanimously approve the majority of the changes.

The amendment adds to the MTA’s debt burden, which some board members said could ultimately increase fares and make transit less affordable. But others said the included projects are crucial to the New York City region and could get more expensive if they’re put off.

“We’re the ones who have the responsibility, the fiduciary responsibility to this region, to our commuters, our residents, to do what is right,” Mitchell H. Pally, an MTA board member from Suffolk County, said at Wednesday’s meeting. “This amendment is what is right from a capital program standpoint.”

The LIRR still must issue an official request for proposals for the project and choose from among four groups of firms qualified to do the work.

The Capital Program Review Board can veto the amendment within 30 days of receiving it from the MTA. The board is comprised of one representative each from the state Senate, Assembly, governor’s office and New York City mayor’s office.

The vote marks another step forward for the locally controversial project, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and transit officials say is a crucial expansion of a key 9.8-mile stretch of the Main Line that will increase capacity and reduce delays throughout the railroad system.

“The outcome [of Wednesday’s vote] is not only unprecedented momentum, but bipartisan and bicounty cooperation,” Dave Kapell, the executive director of the pro-third track Right Track for Long Island Coalition, said in a statement. “Our local officials along the corridor have helped to craft a project that will help usher in a new, prosperous future for their communities and our region at large.”

The amendment comes as project planners work to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with municipalities in which the work will take place before the start of construction, expected to last three to four years.

Critics in villages along the stretch, including Floral Park and New Hyde Park, have said the project will hurt their local economies and quality of life, arguing the LIRR should make more incremental repairs to its system first.

A goal of the memorandum of understanding is to further address those communities’ concerns about the potential harm of construction, including the loss of parking spaces and property tax revenue, New Hyde Park Mayor Lawrence Montreuil said at the May 16 village Board of Trustees meeting.

It will be critical to get those questions answered before the Capital Program Review Board takes action on the amendment and further cements the project’s funding, Montreuil said.

“These next 30 days are probably the most important 30 days that I can imagine that will shape the future of New Hyde Park,” Montreuil said in an interview Friday.

The villages of New Hyde Park, Floral Park and Garden City are still considering legal action to challenge the findings of the LIRR’s environmental study for the project under state environmental law, Monetreuil said. But it may not be necessary if the memorandum addresses their concerns, he said at last week’s meeting.

The third track project also includes the elimination of seven street-level railroad crossings along the corridor, station improvements, sound-deflecting walls and other upgrades, which project officials say are the result of talks with community leaders.

“Our discussions with New Hyde Park throughout the environmental review process have resulted in the Village’s preferred designs for grade crossings, noise reduction walls, station improvements, landscaping, and more, and that collaboration is continuing,” Shams Tarek, a project spokesman, said in a statement.

About the author

Noah Manskar

Noah Manskar is the assistant managing editor for Blank Slate Media and a reporter covering the Willistons, New Hyde Park and Nassau County government.
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