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MTA Third Track Plan Derailed

Local Communities Hold Victory Celebration in Floral Park

A little rain could not spoil the victory party for Town Supervisor Kate Murray, local mayors, government officials and community activists who gathered together at the Floral Park Train Station on May 3. The event celebrated the MTA’s recent announcement that it has excluded the LIRR Third Track project from its 2010-2014 Capital Improvement Plan. Murray said the MTA recently voted that the long-disputed proposal for a third LIRR track would not be included in their five-year plan. The news was a major coup for local communities who have been rallying against the project for more than five years.

As Supervisor Murray stood before a crowd of onlookers, she relayed the importance of the MTA’s recent vote for the residents living in the villages of Floral Park, Bellerose, Bellerose Terrace, Stewart Manor, New Hyde Park and Garden City, all the way east to Hicksville. “I am surrounded by a literal cadre of folks who have worked long and hard to derail the third track plan that the Long Island Railroad has long sought and we are really, really thrilled. Today is absolutely a day to celebrate,” Murray said.

Murray detailed how the MTA’s Third Track proposal for the LIRR’s main line corridor would have adversely affected and dramatically impacted many suburban communities. The plan would have called for trains to be much closer in proximity to residential homes, businesses, schools and parks. Local train stations like Floral Park’s would have been transferred to major rail hubs similar to Jamaica Station as a result of increased car and train traffic.

According to Murray, the environmental effects of the project could have also created dangerous conditions for residents, such as an increase in metal and debris jettisoning off the tracks onto properties and closer to homes, schools and playgrounds. Also a point of concern was the disturbance of potentially hazardous material along the track bed and hazardous materials being freighted via the new track through the ‘bedroom’ of local communities.

The recent decision is a big turnaround for the MTA, who despite having publicized budgetary problems in the past, had kept the plan on the table. Murray indicated that the MTA’s decision was clearly influenced by unified community pressure. The town had appealed to the MTA Board to rescind this plan by colleting petitions in 2005 through the joint efforts then-Mayor Phil Guarnieri and C.A.R.E. (Citizens Against Rail Expansion) and many other village officials.

C.A.R.E. president and community activist Bill Corbett was instrumental in rallying citizens to speak out against this issue. He wrote in an email commenting on the vote to Anton Community Newspapers. “It has been a long six-year struggle since then Mayor Ann Corbett, first appointed the Third Track Task Force to oppose this misguided and unnecessary plan. We knew that with proper organization and support from our elected officials and the public we would be victorious. This is still America, and the will of the people will always eventually prevail. Our C.A.R.E. Coalition had tens of thousands of local citizens with us in opposing this folly and over 130 local organizations and political leaders,” Corbett wrote.

While many government officials helped fight against the MTA’s plan, some officials believed the plan would create jobs for the area and help those who wanted to reverse commute. “It’s shocking that our Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy has failed to support us and sponsored the federal funding for the initial study. The Railroad has said this is still part of their vision for the future, so we will stay organized and vigilant and the people will prevail,” Corbett added.

Former Mayor Phil Guarnieri, who was a driving force behind the fight, stated that he was glad that the celebration took place at Floral Park Train Station. He reminded everyone that Floral Park was the epicenter of the struggle against the third track plan. “It was here that the first tremors of resistance was felt and radiated outward, all the way north to the state of Albany. It was here that alliances were forged and commitments made that grew into the greatest grassroots movement I have ever witnessed on the local level. And, it was here, that this community emphatically said ‘no’ to a track that would have dramatically disrupted our community,” Guarnieri stated.

Guarnieri explained that all the communities along the 11.5-mile corridor in question came together as one against this proposal. “Our communities proved that the future belongs not to the MTA’s bureaucrats, but to the people of these communities who made these communities grow and thrive,” he stated.

Floral Park Mayor Kevin Greene stated that the MTA must have realized that the project realized didn’t have the support it needed to continue. He also recognized all the efforts of everyone who challenged the MTA in this ongoing fight. “We don’t want this project, we don’t want to see this project in the future,” Greene stated. He advised everyone to “stay alert” and now allow the project back in the MTA budget in 2015.

Mayor Jack Martins of Mineola said it was “a great day” for the corridor communities from Bellerose to Hicksville and thanked the leaders and communities who worked countless hours to keep this issue on the front burner over the years. “This Third Track would not have been derailed but for the efforts of the communities, the individuals in the communities recognizing that it would devastate their communities. There are certain things out there that are worth fighting for — this certainly is one of them,” he stated.

State Senator Craig Johnson, another vocal proponent against the Third Track Plan, indicated that the community’s collective efforts were the key to victory. “A couple of week’s ago Newsday wrote an article about the third track and decided to give me the label as the ‘biggest political roadblock’ and, I think that was really selling everybody here short because it was a team effort,” he stated. Johnson indicated that the MTA could come back and revisit the plan in the future.

Murray concurred that they while they may have won the battle, there is still more work to be done. “We can’t give up the fight...this plan has been removed from the 2010-14 capital plan. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s out forever. We have not gotten that kind of commitment,” Murray stated.

“While this is a major victory and a reason to celebrate, we must remember that the MTA will create another budget in 2015 to 2019, so we need to be prepared to keep the pressure up and to let them know that we will not to stop opposing this terrible plan…today is a day to celebrate, tomorrow we get back on the phones,” Murray said.