The Rauch Foundation said that the Long Island Rail Road’s third track project can serve as a model for partnership and progress in getting large-scale projects done.
At a Sept. 27 conference, local officials joined the foundation in celebrating the release of former Newsday journalist Elizabeth Moore’s report for the Rauch Foundation “Breaking Through: How smart partnerships overcame decades of resistance to modernize America’s busiest commuter railroad.”
The report serves as a model for partnership and progress, a replicable way to overcome a seemingly intractable problem and get the job done through deep research, broad coalition building, perseverance and nonpartisan support, according to the Rauch Foundation.
“Make no mistake, supporting the third track took courage on the part of nearly all parties involved,” said Nancy Rauch Douzinas, president of the foundation. “Elected officials risked their political careers. Businesses and private industries risked their bottom lines.”
Douzinas said she hopes the report will serve as a model for both Long Island and other regions on the importance of communication between local leaders, sharing good and honest research and being willing to negotiate.
The LIRR expansion project will add a third track on the Main Line from Floral Park to Hicksville and is being carried out by 3rd Track Constructors. The project began in January 2018 and is to be completed by late 2022. Its development areas include Carle Place, Floral Park, Garden City, Garden City Park, Hicksville, Mineola, New Cassel, New Hyde Park and Westbury.
‘It’s on time and on budget,” Douzinas said.
Douzinas said that one of the underutilized assets of Long Island is the LIRR. She said the development of a third track on the Main Line, whose original two tracks were laid out in the 1800s, enables LIRR trains to go in both directions around the clock more seamlessly, which will create a more “attractive commute” that will benefit the villages after the project is complete.
Douzinas said that contacts she has in New Hyde Park who were originally against the project are starting to come around and support it.
“They are starting to see the value of the project,” Douzinas said.
These benefits will include housing prices going up in the villages, a rise in jobs in the area and an increase in the population of Long Islanders between the ages of 25 and 34, Douzinas said.
Dave Kapell, former mayor of Greenport, said that the third track project is “critically important” for Long Island and said that once the project is complete, people will ask themselves “Wow how did it take us so long to do this?” He said he was successfully able to pitch the project to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December 2015.
Kapell said that “Long Island is notoriously crippled” when it comes to developing large-scale projects such as the third track due to the hyper-local control municipalities like villages and districts can have on a project. He said what helped the project move forward in 2016 was that people in support of the project had to be willing to “put yourself in their shoes” rather than verbally and politically brawl.
Most municipalities, with the exception of Westbury, along the 9.8 miles of the expansion project had reservations in its earlier stages of development, Kapell said. As a former mayor himself, Kapell said he has “full respect for the mayors” and their concerns about large-scale construction in their villages.
Former Floral Park Mayor and Democratic candidate for Hempstead Town Board Thomas Tweedy said in an interview, “I think we made it a better project.” He had voiced his opposition and concerns over the development of the project.
Tweedy said that he was not totally against the project, but said that villages needed benefits from the project. Tweedy said this resulted in including benefits like eliminating dangerous grade crossings in New Hyde Park and developing two parking garages in Mineola.
“Our goal is to make it happen again,” Douzinas said.
Douzinas said that the creation of nonpartisan groups to research projects or initiatives that may help Long Islanders should be considered. She said this could involve finding measures to ensure clean drinking water on Long Island.