Written by Wendy Karpel Kreitzman Friday, 19 November 2010 00:00
An over-flow crowd angrily challenged MTA/LIRR representatives at a meeting at Thomaston Village Hall last Wednesday evening, Nov. 10. A handful of residents whose homes are near the railroad tracks received letters from the MTA explaining that a meeting was to be held Wednesday evening. The letter stated that the MTA/LIRR wanted to meet with homeowners with property adjacent to the bridge and to the LIRR’s right-of-way to discuss their working with the village “to replace this aging bridge and improve drainage and train service reliability.”
The letter also stated that homeowners’ property lines would not be impacted. However, all during the meeting residents spoke up, vehemently and loudly stating that the “improvements” and the work required would produce severe negative impacts on their neighborhood and on their quality of life.
Neighbors told neighbors and informed the press and the result was a long, loud meeting beginning with a short introduction by Thomaston Mayor Robert Stern. Mayor Stern stated that this was just an “informal … informational gathering” and that the “village has no position” on the proposed project. Speaking as a resident, the mayor said that the MTA was presenting a “good plan,” but there were concerns regarding an impact on the neighboring residents. Mayor Stern said that the plan “left out the human element,” and he stated that “this is not the end.”
Mayor Stern urged the residents to take action and call up their public officials. One resident reminded the mayor that he is “the public official” that they need. When another resident questioned why the village had not brought a lawsuit against the MTA/LIRR, Mayor Stern said that the village may well initiate legal action.
Bob Brennan, director of government affairs for the MTA/LIRR, gave the first presentation. Following an opening round of angry questions, before he could even talk, Mr. Brennan gave his phone number and invited members of the public to call with questions (718-558-73010). And he stated that the proposed project is now “in very preliminary stages.”
Mr. Brennan explained that this was to be a three-prong project: replacement of the Colonial Road Bridge, improved drainage at the track level, and an extension of the existing pocket track (actually adding a second pocket track). He said that this work would provide long-term bridge safety and improve train service reliability.
Mr. Brennan tackled the bridge issue first, stating that the bridge, built in 1897, “is beyond its useful life” and is on New York State’s Department of Transportation “Watch List” of substandard bridges that require more than the customary once-a-year inspection. He said that the LIRR inspects the Colonial Road Bridge four times a year and he agreed that though this bridge now should only hold three tons (NYSDOT’s lowest capacity rating before closure), many heavier trucks are seen crossing the bridge.
Further bridge problems include: open grating on the bridge that creates noise pollution; open grating allowing rainwater during heavy storms to flood the track covering the third rail (causing service delays); and a resulting increase in track maintenance costs.
It was also noted at one point that the proposed new bridge would be in the “same area” as the existing bridge, but it would not necessarily be in the same footprint, as there might be a different alignment. Work on the bridge would see the bridge closed for about a year, during part of the construction period.
Mr. Brennan went on to explain that a new retaining wall would be a part of the new infrastructure, complete with drainage improvements to reduce track flooding and the volume of water that flows in to the Great Neck LIRR Station. Such drainage improvement, he said, would reduce service delays, enhance existing infrastructure, and decrease maintenance costs.
As for the second pocket track, which caused considerable outcry from the 100 or so residents present, railroad representatives promised that the pocket track would not be used for overnight storage of trains, nor would it be used for train maintenance. The pocket track would have the capacity to hold two 12-car trains.
The extension of the existing pocket track would be constructed eastward, below the new Colonial Road Bridge, to provide the ability to turn trains along the branch, resulting in increased service frequency and reliability. Taking this one step further, the railroad representatives said that the work would allow the LIRR to start trains mid-branch to increase the opportunity for customers to obtain a seat on heavily used service trains, and would also enable the LIRR to improve service during Mets home games.
The audience was also told that there would be several benefits to the community provided by the proposed work; the new bridge design will comply with “relevant NYSDOT guidelines;” the travel lanes would be wider; and the roadway grating would be eliminated to reduce noise.
As for the total cost of the three-prong project, Mr. Brennan said that the cost for all three, as one project, is $40 million. Part of the money would come from federal funds and some from the MTA/LIRR five-year capital plan. And, according to the MTA representatives, the new project would result in “premier service” for the Port Washington branch of the LIRR, and, eventually, there would also be trains going in to Grand Central Station from Great Neck.
Mr. Brennan and a project manager reported that current plans would see the design for this project completed next year, with construction beginning in 2013 and completion by the end of 2014.
Although the railroad representatives often spoke of landscaping and sound buffers as part of the overall project, many residents questioned such a promise, as the railroad has never replaced trees and shrubs taken down just a few years ago, trees that the railroad said were overgrown and causing problems.
Residents also questioned what appeared to be a lack of traffic, demographic and environmental studies on the part of the MTA/LIRR. Residents questioned why the LIRR had cut train service from every half hour to every hour, claiming lower ridership, yet the railroad officials now assert that they must do this extensive work now to provide for what they expect to be an increase in riders.
By the time Mayor Stern called an end to the meeting (after over two hours), residents called for the railroad officials to recognize the residents’ hostility and concerns. And they asked the railroad to “look at” the concerns that the residents have and to consider the “impact” that all of this work would have on village residents.
Mr. Brennan and the other railroad residents present at the meeting said that they would go back and consider all of the concerns and come back to the residents. They promised another meeting.