Written by Linda Portney Goldstein, Editorial@Antonnews.com Thursday, 20 June 2013 00:00
Long Island Railroad president, Helena Williams, along with other top executives of the company began reaching out to Port Washington residents last week in an effort to educate the public with respect to the proposed railroad track expansion at the Port Washington railroad yard. They unveiled an information center at the railroad station which remained open and staffed all week, and followed up with a public meeting on Thursday evening, June 13, during which Williams gave a PowerPoint presentation and fielded questions from the audience.
The railroad’s efforts are directed towards winning over a skeptical public that voiced concerns regarding the loss of commuter parking spots due to the track expansion.
The railroad presented two plans for review, both of which will enable Port Washington residents to benefit from the East Side Access Project to Grand Central Station by adding nine additional trains during peak rush hours, three in the morning and six eastbound trains during the afternoon rush. Williams also said there will be additional express trains originating in Port Washington and increased service to CitiField and the tennis center.
All parties agree that the track expansion will result in the loss of some of the 1,008 commuter parking spots. In what the railroad refers to as the Preferred Option A, the LIRR will buy a parcel of land on the South Bayles side of the station that they now lease from the town. One track would be extended on the Bayles side and they would use a portion of the land they already own on the Haven Avenue side for the other track, with a net loss of perhaps 40 parking spots at the train station. The number of lost spots will depend on the ability to re-stripe the current lot on South Bayles.
Option B consists of the railroad using the land they own on the Haven Avenue side of the station and putting both track extensions next to each other on the same side, with a net loss of approximately 140 spots.
Several residents objected to the plan saying that the town cannot afford to lose any parking spots. Others said they have observed trains remaining idle at the station during the morning rush questioning why two track extensions are necessary “when we have trains sitting there that are not being used?”
In William’s view, parking problems are not unique to Port Washington and all communities confront the problem differently. There will be money available in the next LIRR capital improvement budget to assist communities in providing multi level parking solutions. Port Washington residents have opposed this approach in the past. Williams also emphasized that the railroad stands ready to provide whatever assistance they can to help the town solve the parking problem, but said that running or subsidizing shuttle buses throughout the town was not one of those options.
In the view of the railroad, Port Washington riders are among the most loyal and the most vocal and one reason people choose to live in Port Washington is the rail service to Manhattan. The track extensions will enhance the community’s desirability with direct access to Grand Central Station. The major challenge to providing increased service to the Port Washington peninsula is the one track viaduct between Great Neck and Manhasset, which dictates that trains must be stored in Port Washington overnight in order to be in place for the morning rush.
Elected officials at the meeting including Supervisor John Kaiman, County Legislators Judi Bosworth and Wayne Wink all said they would support the community’s best interests. Supervisor Kaiman expressed his opinion that doing nothing is not a realistic option because the railroad can go ahead on its own and the community would then lose the 140 parking spots.
Councilwoman DeGiorgio said that she had met with Williams and her staff prior to the evening meeting and she believed that an open dialogue and a productive negotiation on the land sale could move forward, but she did stress that the parking issues need to be addressed and resolved.
The Port Washington project is projected to be completed between 2018 and 2019.