At a public hearing of the New York State Assembly Third Track Advisory Committee, chaired by Mineola Mayor Jack Martins, and hosted by Assemblyman Tom McKevitt Thursday evening, members of the commission as well as residents in attendance made it known that they will continue fighting the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)/Metropolitan Transit Authority (FTA) third track project, slated for the main line corridor between Hicksville and Floral Park.
Leaders from communities along the main line corridor such as Mineola, New Hyde Park, Westbury, Garden City and Floral Park have vowed to fight the third track because they question the need for a third track project, a costly undertaking that would be sure to disrupt the lives of many residents of those communities.
Floral Park Mayor Phil Guarnieri pointed out that the LIRR/MTA hasn't made it clear with the communities what would be affected by the third track project for the need for the project. Guarnieri said that the third track was originally proposed for a reverse commute. When that reason lacked justification, it was proposed as a passing lane for disabled trains. However, Guarnieri maintains that there haven't been many disabled trains to warrant laying a third track. The Floral Park mayor said now the justification for a third track seems to be increased service that will come as a result of the East Side Access project, a capital project to send trains to Grand Central Station in Manhattan as well as Pennsylvania Station. Guarnieri said there are other things the LIRR can do to accommodate an increase of riders such as adding cars to existing trains or running more double-decker trains. "Why should we bear all the burden and get none of the benefits," he said of the communities that a third track would run through.
Russ Sutherland, a resident of the Birchwood Court co-op building in Mineola near the Mineola train station, also questioned the idea of having a third track at a current estimated cost of $1.5 billion used for a passing lane. "For $1.5 billion, they can arrange for limousine or helicopter service," he said.
Martins maintains that the LIRR/MTA has been sending mixed signals regarding the third track project. LIRR President Helena Williams recently announced that, though the third track remains the best way to reduce congestion and achieve greater LIRR capacity, "given current funding constraints, the LIRR must be realistic about setting our priorities for the near term."
However, more recently, MTA board member Mitch Pally of Stony Brook was quoted in Newsday as saying a third track will be constructed on schedule "come hell or high water."
Martins responded, "While we are talking in clichés, how about this one - over my dead body!"
The Mineola mayor believes the communities that would be affected by the third track have to continue to be vigilant until the third track project is finally shelved. Martins said he sent a letter to the LIRR to ask that they formally withdraw their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the third track project from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), but, as of Thursday, had not gotten a response.
"The people of the communities need to have piece of mind. People need some certainty so they can plan for the future of their homes," said Martins.
The properties that would have to be taken by eminent domain by the MTA/LIRR remain a mystery. Some who live along the main line corridor are left wondering if they would be forced to move as a result of the project and, while the project may be postponed due to an issue with funding, some feel they are in limbo with respect to their homes.
"It's very unfair to keep people in a state of constant worry," said Jim McHugh, a resident of New Hyde Park.
In addition to taking away property, some residents are concerned that the LIRR/MTA may use a third track to move freight. While Williams, the LIRR president, maintained that the LIRR is not in the business of moving freight, some expressed distrust in the MTA/LIRR.
McKevitt said that the project is still out there and the Third Track Advisory Committee will most likely meet next in New Hyde Park in September.