By Maylan L. Studart
New Hyde Park residents and business owners are bracing for chaos when Covert Avenue closes on Monday to accommodate construction of a third track on the main line of the Long Island Rail Road.
The LIRR Expansion Project will add a 9.8-mile track from Floral Park to Hicksville to reduce train and automobile congestion and delays. The project includes the elimination of seven grade crossings like the one on Covert Avenue, new parking facilities, upgrades to railroad infrastructure and stations and other improvements.
But ahead of the improvements comes the organized chaos.
Covert Avenue will be closed for approximately six months between 1st Avenue and 5th Avenue starting Monday, leaving local business owners and managers feeling resigned and ignored.
“Of course we’re worried but there isn’t something we can do,” said Jeffrey Chen, owner of a Carvel ice cream store at 80 Covert Ave. Covert will close half a mile north of Chen’s business at a critical time for his seasonal ice cream business. “I’ve just got to dig in and hang in there.”
Marcus Christ Hall in New Hyde Park was decorated with posters, detour maps and construction plans for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s and 3rd Track Constructors’ latest informational meeting last Wednesday night.
In the session, residents walked around the room talking to representatives to find out how Covert Avenue’s closure will affect them, their schools and their homes.
Yvonne Marin, a New Hyde Park resident, said she is concerned how the detour plan will affect the safety of her two young children and others who attend Stewart Manor Elementary School. The school now finds itself inside the detour route one block east of Covert Avenue. She said the school already has problems with speeding cars.
“I would hope that you guys did research on safety,” Marin said. “It’s going to be six months and there’s a playground there as well.” She wants temporary changes made to the traffic plan like a new crosswalk, a traffic light or guard during school hours.
“As it stands, there are speed limit issues and now the traffic congestion, how are people going to be dropping off their kids?” she asked one of the project’s designers, who was not allowed to speak on the record.
Dover Parkway North near the school turns into a one-way street during school hours, which leaves only one way for parents to drop off their children and there is no parking allowed nearby if parents want to walk their child to class.
She showed the official the problem, pointing on the detour map, and he told her that despite his limited responsibility as a designer, the traffic analysis team told him it had received feedback from the community. He said he doesn’t know if there will be any changes to the detour.
“It’s already a sucky situation and it’s going to get tremendously worse,” Marin said.
A major part of the project, building underpasses for the elimination of seven railroad grade crossings, is already underway. Construction crews are working outward to inward, from the most easterly grade crossing on Westbury’s Urban Avenue and the westernmost crossing on New Hyde Park’s Covert Avenue. Urban Avenue has been closed between Broadway and Main Street since March 8.
3TC, the builder and designer of the project, has held several meetings to let people know significant construction on Covert Avenue will occur, but Carvel’s Chen says it’s a “waste of time.”
“They have these meetings, it’s a waste of time, they’re going to do what they’re going to do,” said Chen. “I’m a nobody, just a one-store owner. It is what it is.”
The owner of a nearby bagel store also said the informational meetings are a waste of time because he went to one and said he got a nonanswer from project officials.
Residents who have spoken to Blank Slate Media about the ongoing construction on Covert Avenue have complained about vibrations from the pile driving shaking their houses, cracks on their walls and concrete floors, large trucks zooming by and blocking residential streets and rats roaming nearby construction sites.
The MTA said there is a variety of ways concerned residents can make their voices heard and receive project updates. 3TC has set up a hotline on 516-203-4955, email communications at CommunityOutreach@LIRRExpansion.com and detailed project websites at www.amodernLI.com and www.LIRRexpansion.com where people can sign up to receive updates via email.
In addition to ongoing community meetings, 3TC is showcasing some local businesses as part of its Open for Business program website and has community ambassadors doing door-to-door outreach.
The MTA and 3TC are also working with the Village of Floral Park and Covert Avenue Chamber of Commerce to install banners along Covert Avenue that will encourage passing motorists and pedestrians to shop locally.
Once Covert Avenue reopens towards the end of the year, New Hyde Park Road is next to be closed for the following 11 months for the elimination of that grade crossing.