Local Dems slam state Republicans on 3rd track funding

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

Local Democratic officials on Thursday panned the Republican state Senate leader’s threat to halt the Long Island Rail Road’s third track project.

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, reportedly because state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) threatened to have it blocked.

Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, state Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) and county Legislator Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) said Flanagan’s move will only exacerbate commuters’ transportation woes.

“Senate Republicans are stopping a necessary modernization and they should be ashamed of throwing away almost $2 billion for major improvements to the LIRR,” Jacobs said in a statement. “Our commuters and our economy cannot continue to suffer while they play politics.”

The joint statement from Jacobs, Brooks and Curran — who is running for Nassau County executive — infuses politics into the debate more than before as funding it hinges on political considerations.

The LIRR wants to add a third track to a key 9.8-mile stretch of its Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville. Project officials say it would take three to four years to build and would improve service by increasing capacity and giving trains a route around delays.

The project would also modernize LIRR signals along the stretch, remove seven street-level railroad crossings and build noise-deflecting walls, among other improvements.

State Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), who reportedly takes direction from Flanagan, is one of four members of the Capital Program Review Board, which must approve any amendments to the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Program. The MTA Board of Directors approved the amendment that would provide $1.95 billion for the third track in May.

The withdrawal and resubmission of the funding plan gave the MTA 30 more days to address lingering questions about the project before another possible veto.

Jacobs, Brooks and Curran argued the project is more desperately needed now, as the MTA is under a state of emergency and LIRR commuters deal with for two months of disruptions due to repairs at Penn Station in Manhattan.

“We desperately need to increase our transportation options and modernize the LIRR but unfortunately, once again, Albany politicians are fighting for themselves rather than for what’s best for Long Islanders,” Curran said in the statement.

But Republican state Sen. Elaine 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 in a statement Friday.

Since Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced it in January 2016, local officials, residents and interest groups have argued about the project’s possible benefits and the potential damage it could do to affected communities, including Floral Park, New Hyde Park and Mineola.

Phillips and Republican Sen. Kemp Hannon of Garden City have been two of the project’s most vocal critics.

Flanagan, Phillips and Hannon have 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, Newsday’s The Point newsletter reported Friday.

While many in New Hyde Park and Floral Park still strongly oppose the project, the villages’ mayors signed memoranda of understanding with the LIRR last week that they say will give their communities extra benefits and protection during the construction period.

Those agreements should remain in place regardless of whether the Capital Program amendment proceeds in its current form, Phillips said Friday.

New Hyde Park Mayor Lawrence Montreuil said he thinks it could be good for officials to consider whether the money is better spent on more immediate infrastructure needs.

“If there is that question in people’s minds I think maybe a 30-day delay is not the end of the world,” Monetruil said.

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, another Democrat running for county executive, agreed that the third track is critical, but said Democrats and Republicans should work together to get the needed funding to fix the LIRR’s problems.

E. O’Brien Murray, a spokesman for Jack Martins, Phillips’ state Senate predecessor and the Republican county executive candidate, praised Cuomo the MTA for resubmitting the amendment. But he condemned the Nassau Democrats for making empty political statements.

“Instead of being truthful about the Third Track project, which does nothing to solve the immediate commuter crisis but is a long term capital project, Jacobs, Curran and Brooks are dishonestly attempting to confuse these two important issues,” Murray said in a statement.

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