Third Track Project is a Go
The highly controversial Third Track project has been given approval by the MTA Capital Review Board. The State Assembly, Senate and Governor's representatives on the panel gave the thumbs upl to the project after localities signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). The approval of the project will allow for approximately 10 miles of track from Hicksville to Floral Park to be constructed. Governor Andrew Cuomo took a victory lap on his "big win" for the project stating, "After decades of delay, today we took action to fundamentally change the economy on Long Island and secure its future prosperity. I am proud to partner with our local governments and the Legislature with a project that is going to change the game for the Long Island region and all its residents that will benefit from it for generations to come.”
MTA interim Executive Director Veronique Hakim was also very pleased with the approval adding, “The MTA took extensive time to talk with local villages and officials and address concerns they may have, and that effort was successful. Today we conclude with a positive outcome. This project will not only build the track, but it will also modernize the Long Island Rail Road with a new signal system, remove dangerous grade crossings literally saving lives, accommodate positive train control, and bring additional commuter parking.”
The approval was announced by Governor Cuomo and Senator John Flanagan after what many have called a process marked by bullying, backroom deals and special interest money pouring into Nassau County. Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Stewart Manor, Bellerose Village and Bellerose Terrace. The villages and unincorporated areas were a local battleground where hundreds of thousands of dollars of mailings, television ads and electronic media were used to influence local officials and communities. Along the way, the bullying of New Hyde Park's Mayor and "dark" political money almost derailed the project. However, hundreds of thousands of dollars of more media advertising polluted the airwaves with attacks on local Mayors, Senators, Trustees and labeling communities as obstructionist continued.
The approval of the project was not universal. Some local officials continued to ask questions and demand answers and relief from State representatives of the MTA, Governor's office and LIRR. Negotiations, according to insiders, were marked by press leaks and attacks of officials that were termed to be completely out of bounds. One such attack was so vicious and mean spirited on the side promoting the Third Track that Governor Cuomo himself called the elected official to discuss the matter.
Senator Elaine Phillips, who is a critic of the plan, has been quite outspoken on the issues revolving Penn Station, derailments and infrastructure. The Senator has noted that those issues should be addressed first and that funding should be channeled to the efforts first. "I strong believe the MTA must strike an appropriate balance between fixing the problems responsible for the derailments, disruptions and delays that LIRR commuters have experienced and making strategic investments necessary to facilitate the region's growth. Given the urgency of returning the system to a state of good repair, I believe that should be the immediate priority." On the Assembly side, Assemblymember Solages had given tacit approval of the project as was reported by Newsday last fall. Assemblyman Ed Ra has been a consistent opponent of the project.
Mayor Dominic Longobardi was also critical of the approval. "The facts are and remain the same. Our community is opposed to the project because of all the still unanswered questions, concerns and impacts that our Village will have during the construction process. The MOU was our Village's only safety net that we could count upon to bring accountability to our community. Absent that very difficult, challenging and frustrating collaboration with the MTA, we wouldn't have a leg to stand on. Now the Village has a path for direct recourse with the MTA."
Third Track Committee Chair Archie Cheng added, "It was our hope that when the Governor tasked MTA Chair Lhota to come back with a comprehensive plan to address the collapse of Penn Station and surrounding infrastructure that it would be a time out where the MTA would critically look at the true and immediate needs of the system. The funding being used for the Third Track should be used right now to fix Penn Station, derailment issues and infrastructure that is in disrepair. It would also have given our communities on the main line the ability and opportunity to educate the public on the MOU and all the outstanding and critical issues that our Village governments were facing. I wish that the same enthusiasm for the Third Track project could be channeled towards the Summer of Hell and the dangerous situation at Penn Station."
Recent community meetings have become flashpoints for residents to express their concerns and objections to the project. Additionally, many neighborhoods throughout Floral Park have been bombarded with mailings attacking opponents of the project paid for by labor unions and special interest PACS who stand to gain from the construction.
Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, said, “Governor Cuomo and Majority Leader Flanagan should be commended for reaching an agreement to add a Third Track to the LIRR that was envisioned a half century ago and will now result in a $2 billion investment to the region, economic growth and a better experience for commuters while addressing the legitimate concerns of surrounding communities.”