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LIRR/Colonial Road Bridge Renovations: No Smooth Ride Here

Village of Thomaston Mayor Robert Stern is still in a quandary about proposed projects along the Long Island Rail Road track in Great Neck. While the mayor has spent the last 10 years (verified by Great Neck Record coverage) attempting to work with the MTA/LIRR to plan for a renovation of the well over-a-hundred-year-old Colonial Road bridge, he has had no success until late last year, when the railroad decided that this project could be incorporated into a project to build a second pocket track at the Great Neck station.

A November meeting between LIRR representatives and Thomaston residents resulted in heated words and angry tempers when a large group of residents spoke strongly against the new track that they felt would negatively impact their quality of life. At that time, Mayor Stern also expressed concerns about the proposal.

In an interview last week with the Record, Mayor Stern said that, despite phone calls to railroad officials, since a meeting with them at U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office in January, a meeting the mayor asked for, he has not heard anything from the railroad. He said that several phone calls have gone unanswered.

At this point in time, the mayor has appointed a committee of residents, headed by Trustee Gary Noren, to oversee the entire issue. To date, residents have complained not only of negative impacts regarding both the construction phase of the proposed project (with a $3.5 billion budget) and the resulting noisy, busy train station, but they question why, with such a huge budget and the expectation of many more riders, the railroad has cut service on the Port Washington line.

Speaking with Mayor Stern, he first produced, off the Internet, documents from a LIRR website that detail a January railroad meeting. The mayor pointed out highlights: about 43,000 daily riders on the Port Washington branch, with about two-thirds using Great Neck and stations west; the Great Neck station accounts for about 2 percent of the Port Washington branch riders on a daily basis. And if the second pocket track expansion goes through, the railroad expects more express trains along the entire train route.

The railroad has noted several times, though, that the pocket track would not be used for overnight train storage, but would be used to turn around trains already on the tracks.

Additionally, Mayor Stern pointed out that the LIRR report also stated: “Reconstruction of the bridge will result in realigned bridge footings, allowing for the xenon of the pocket track below the bridge.” Thus, he said, his long-requested bridge reconstruction was, for the railroad, only a means to an end for their new expansion. And the LIRR report added that a $10 million federal grant would fund the rebuilding of the Colonial Road Bridge.

According to information the LIRR disseminated at a meeting late last year, and corroborated by the mayor, three phases are intended for the project: drainage, a pocket track, and the bridge.

Fighting for what he believes is right for his residents and for the Great Neck peninsula as a whole, Mayor Stern has met with several public officials, presenting the proposed project and explaining why Thomaston believes that this work is not in the best interest of Great Neck. The mayor has said many times that he believes that the railroad has a very good plan, for the railroad, but not for local residents.

Mayor Stern is also concerned that the public has not heard the complete plan, but that there is a “grand plan” behind the scenes. He is still wondering if there will be true public hearings, public hearings in this area, and how this “grand plan” will really impact on Great Neck. For example, he questions how new East Side express trains will be able to run on the existing tracks, the same tracks that are now used by all trains.

And Mayor Stern worries about how the expanded railroad, with service directly to Grand Central Station in a few years, will affect traffic and parking in the small Village of Great Neck Plaza.

“How will the railroad handle 6,000 or 7,000 more riders … and where will they park,” he asks.

According to Mayor Stern, this is such a large project with so many ramifications, that it cannot possibly be just the project the railroad is presenting.

“They’re not telling us something,” Mayor Stern insists. “This (project) doesn’t make sense; it’s full of holes.”

At press time, calls from the Record to the Long Island Rail Road’s public affairs office were as yet unreturned.