By Rebecca Melnitsky
The Floral Park Civic South Side Association hosted a lengthy discussion of concerns for Long Island Rail Road projects, including increasing service to Belmont and the third track.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced the LIRR will expand services at the Belmont station to accommodate for a proposed arena complex for the New York Islanders.
The MTA also plans to build a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville and eliminate seven street-level crossings. A $1.8 billion contract has been awarded for the construction.
About 30 people attended the event at the Floral Park Recreation Center on Thursday night, which featured Larry Penner, a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.
Penner said that the proposed timeline for the projects are not feasible, and there is no space to run additional trains on LIRR tracks.
The Belmont project is supposed to be ready in 2020 and the third track is supposed to be finished in 2022, respectively.
“I’m very leery of people making promises, whether they’re elected officials or people in the transportation community,” he said. “For commitments I know based on my professional experience they can’t make.”
He said that the current third track plan was evaluated under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, but not the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. This rendered the plan ineligible for federal funds. A third track plan in 2005 began the NEPA process but it was abandoned in 2008.
“Regardless of whether you’re for or against [the third track], I think the primary offensive line now is to make sure you as taxpayers and riders get our money’s worth and hold them accountable with schedule, budget and scope,” Penner said.
The third track is necessary to support the East Side Access expansion, which will increase the number of trains running through Floral Park.
Penner said that number includes non-revenue trains. Residents need to ask officials how they will fit transportation projects and train slots on the LIRR alongside those in New York City, New Jersey, the Hudson Valley and elsewhere, he said.
Penner also said the MTA should focus on systems to prevent accidents before they occur, which is known as positive train control.
“Safety is the No. 1 priority,” he said.
He also advised residents whose homes are negatively impacted by train construction to ask for reimbursement for damages.
The Floral Park train station, he added, is in competition with the many other renovation and construction projects in the MTA. So residents need to push their representatives in state government to bring back funds from the budget to support renovations.
Rebuilding the station at Floral Park could cost $50 million to $100 million, Penner estimated, including $10 to $20 million just to rebuild the elevators.
“That’s a station that really needs an upgrade,” he said.
For Belmont, Penner argued that the millions needed to make expand the area to all public transportation, including buses and LIRR services, have not been set aside by the MTA in their five-year plan.
For planned development at Belmont, Penner said that the proposed arena complex would only be in use for 41 home games, and would have a hard time attracting concerts and other events with nearby competition from Nassau Coliseum, Forest Hills Stadium and several other venues.
“They also talk about they’re going to bring a movie theater,” he said. “With all due respect, is there a shortage of movie theaters in Nassau County? And they talk about dining and restaurants. Is there a shortage of dining and restaurants in Nassau County? Not that I’m aware of.”