Written by Wendy Karpel Kreitzman Friday, 08 April 2011 00:00
“The Long Island Rail Road is going to do right by Thomaston,” stated Thomaston Mayor Robert Stern, as he addressed an MTA/LIRR press conference last week with LIRR President Helena Williams and a host of public officials. The press conference staged at the week-long information booth at the Great Neck Station was preceded by a private meeting of Mayor Stern and Ms. Williams. Both parties are set to work together, with the LIRR offering Thomaston input into the proposed projects and the opportunity for the mayor to be kept up-to-date at each step.
Since the LIRR presented proposed work in Great Neck several months ago, Thomaston residents have been up-in-arms at the prospect of track work and the resulting additions negatively impacting on their quality of life. Concern was also raised over traffic and parking issues when LIRR trains to Grand Central Station begin running from Great Neck in a few years.
Mayor Stern, who, for 10 years, had been asking the railroad for help in renovating/rebuilding the documented dangerous Colonial Road Bridge, led the charge that the railroad was not listening to local residents and not considering impacts on his village and on the Great Neck peninsula.
The LIRR has proposed the following projects: Colonial Road Bridge replacement, track drainage problems, and the extension of an existing pocket track. Last week the LIRR had set up a week-long project information booth at the train station and several public officials spoke at the Monday, March 28 press conference.
LIRR President Helena Williams opened the press conference, stating that she wanted community input. She said that she understands the impacts on the community and that they want to take the best measures to mitigate these impacts. Ms. Williams also said that the MTA/LIRR website has the availability for interested parties to log in and offer comments.
Introducing Mayor Stern, Ms. Williams said that the mayor is a “strong advocate for Thomaston.” She said that “The mayor his doing is job and it is admirable.”
Having just discussed village concerns with Mayor Stern, Ms. Williams said that she and the mayor are now “partners” and that Mayor Stern is “someone I can talk to, to come to” so they can work towards a resolution.
Mayor Stern, confident and strong in his views and in this new opportunity to now work with the railroad, said that after his private meeting with Ms. Williams, he felt “somewhat more assured” that this would be a “careful, thoughtful process.”
Mayor Stern said that he was further impressed by meeting with a railroad project manager: “I learned a lot.”
And Mayor Stern once again emphasized that he and Thomaston would be a part of the upcoming LIRR projects in Great Neck.
Congressman Gary Ackerman, who has also been involved in resolving issues between Thomaston and the railroad, admitted that this is a “tough issue ... tougher for some than others.” He recognized the fact of there sometimes being “conflicting interests.”
Congressman Ackerman also noted that the railroad track had been there before most people lived there, but the prospect of additional track can be helpful to some but would also impact neighbors. And he stated that his constituents do need the railroad.
Congressman Ackerman also said that he has become involved as he represents the entire community and that federal (and state) funds are involved.
Congressman Ackerman spoke of support for the LIRR project, “but in an intelligent way.” Stating that he is “very sensitive to neighbors’ concerns,” he raised a number of questions and spoke of LIRR improvements as for “the greater good” of the community.
The congressman also said that Ms. Williams is “willing to listen to everyone.”
Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender spoke briefly, as the LIRR station is in her village. She spoke of the entire peninsula needing good transit service, and she spoke of the importance of the LIRR to listen to residents’ concerns. Mayor Celender stated: “Let’s keep the dialogue going.”
The Proposed LIRR Project
According to an MTA/LIRR spokesperson, the $36 million Colonial Road Improvement Project will provide the following: extend an existing pocket track approximately 1,200 feet enabling the LIRR to turn trains faster and provide better rush hour service and seat availability from Great Neck and stations west and set the stage to add as many as 10 trains to the East Side of Manhattan during the morning when another project brings the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal in 2016; and repair/replacement of the 114-year-old Colonial Road Bridge, which the DOT has flagged as needing frequent checks; and installation of a new drainage system at track level to eliminate flooding.
A railroad spokesperson has also noted that “At no time will the pocket track be used for overnight train storage.”
The LIRR has also noted that the project will provide construction jobs that they say will be “crucial to the continued recovery of the Long Island economy.”
The LIRR has also said that “some 43,000 people travel daily on the Port Washington Branch with approximately two-thirds using Great Neck Station and stations west of Great Neck.”
LIRR officials have assured that as part of its environmental review, the LIRR is launching a comprehensive study of all materials that could best mitigate any possible increase in noise for Thomaston residents, especially for those whose backyards run alongside the proposed extension of the pocket track, just east of the Great Neck station.
As for the actual environmental review, LIRR officials state that the LIRR will “follow the federal NEPA environmental project.” Public comments will be reviewed and the LIRR expects that the draft environmental report should be complete by this summer and the public will have the opportunity for further comment in the fall. According to the LIRR, the environmental process is expected to conclude during the first quarter of 2012.
The project is reportedly the largest expansion the LIRR has undertaken in 100 years.