Mayors split over 3rd track project

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Mayor Robert Lofaro of New Hyde Park speaks at a press conference opposing the Long Island Rail Road's third track project on Friday, March 24, 2017. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

Eight elected officials from along the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line backed the railroad’s proposed third track project on Friday, but several of their colleagues remain critical.

Two village mayors — including Scott Strauss of Mineola — joined state, Nassau County and local town officials in endorsing the $2 billion plan, which has been met mostly with hot opposition locally.

The officials represent Mineola, Westbury and Hicksville, the eastern half of the 9.8-mile project corridor that stretches west to Floral Park.

“The third track has a controversial history in Mineola — but with the Governor’s latest effort, we were invited to the table to help shape the plan in a way that benefits the village,” Strauss said in a statement.

But another slate of officials restated their opposition to the plan Friday, maintaining their claims that the LIRR’s environmental study is flawed and should be revisited.

The mayors of New Hyde Park, Floral Park and Garden City, villages in the western end of the corridor, along with state, county and town lawmakers, said their constituents deserve answers to questions they say the railroad has yet to answer.

“What’s really important here is transparency, openness, fairness and accuracy of what is going to be done,” Robert Lofaro, the New Hyde Park mayor, said.

The project, announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January 2016, would build a third track along a key stretch of the Main Line that carries about 40 percent of the LIRR’s daily ridership. It would be built entirely on LIRR property in three to four years.

The railroad collected comments on its draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, for the project in January and February and plans to release a final environmental statement later this year.

Seven officials besides Strauss, including Mayor Peter Cavallaro of Westbury, held a news conference Friday morning to state their support for the project.

The officials — six Republicans and one Democrat — said the project would boost the local and regional economies and praised the LIRR’s efforts to assuage local concerns.

Their support coincides with urbanization and development initiatives in their municipalities, which other third track backers say the project would propel.

The Village of Westbury won a $10 million state award last year to support its downtown revitalization initiative. The initiative has refurbished its Post Avenue business district and will support residential development.

Mineola has taken up its own revitalization effort, approving four apartment complexes since 2008 and working to boost business near its LIRR station.

And the Town of Oyster Bay proposed a rezoning plan last year aimed at supporting Hicksville’s business district near its LIRR station, the busiest on Long Island. The station is also receiving a $121 million overhaul funded by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“Combined with other station enhancements we know, together with the state, we are building a better Hicksville and a better Town of Oyster Bay,” Saladino said in a statement.

But several officials and residents along the corridor remain concerned the project will cause traffic and noise problems and damage quality of life in their communities.

Michael Murphy, an attorney representing the villages of New Hyde Park, Floral Park and Garden City for the Manhattan firm Beveridge & Diamond, argued again Friday that the LIRR’s environmental study “relies on plans that don’t exist yet.”

The study lacks information about issues such as drainage possible soil contamination, Murphy said, calling for the LIRR to do further review and reissue the study for comment.

“This is the problem with the DEIS — it lacks critical data, it contains errors, it relies on key assumptions that are not justified and it does not offer the type of data-driven analysis one would expect for this type of project,” Murphy said Friday at a news conference in New Hyde Park.

Murphy first made that argument in a February letter to the LIRR and again called for the railroad to reissue its study for public comment. The LIRR has defended the study, saying it goes well beyond what’s required in state environmental law.

Joining Murphy were nine Republican officials, including mayors Lofaro, Thomas Tweedy of Floral Park and Nicholas Episcopia of Garden City; and representatives from the Nassau County and state Legislatures and the Hempstead and North Hempstead town boards.

The dueling news conferences came the same day the LIRR announced that more than 700 women- and minority-owned businesses have signed up to learn about how they can win contracts for the third track project at a March 30 event.

The firms will be eligible for contracts to sell materials and for construction, landscaping, engineering and other services.

The third track would also eliminate the seven street-level railroad crossings along the corridor, build sound reduction walls and renovate stations.

“Public officials throughout the project corridor support the long overdue modernization of the LIRR, and it’s their leadership that’s making this a better project for their constituents and for the next generation,” Shams Tarek, a project spokesman, said in a statement.

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