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LIRR’s $2.5 billion third track opens after six decades of debate, planning and construction




The Long Island Rail Road’s nearly 10-mile third track through Nassau County is complete, officials announced Monday morning.

The $2.5 billion effort had been considered and debated by Long Island planners for more than six decades before construction began in 2019.

“This is the completion of a long, long journey,” Gov. Kathy Hochul announced at a news conference in a garage next to the LIRR’s Westbury Station. The audience included key figures from the project’s long history, including two former LIRR presidents and the current interim president.

The new track, which stretches from Floral Park to Hicksville, has long been seen as critical to the expansion of the LIRR, which has operated on the same two tracks throughout its bottlenecked main line for more than a century. The limited infrastructure limited the railroad̵[ads1]7;s ability to run eastbound trains during the morning rush hour, westbound trains in the evening, and to bypass unexpected service disruptions along the busy line, which connects to Ronkonkoma, Huntington, Port Jefferson, Hempstead, and Oyster Bay.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Construction is complete on the Long Island Rail Road’s new 9.8-mile third track, which stretches from Floral Park to Hicksville, officials announced Monday. The LIRR says the extra capacity will allow them to increase service on the main line, and recover more quickly from unexpected service disruptions.

  • After decades of planning and debatethe project was launched in 2016, and construction began in 2019. Officials said the $2.5 billion effort was completed on time and $100 million under budget, although some related station improvements remain unfinished.

  • Although the project has received a lot of praise of business and planning groups, some residents along the project’s corridor have complained about the consequences of the construction.

Combined with the also-soon-to-be-completed East Side Access megaproject, the LIRR says it will increase service by 40% and for the first time be able to provide adequate service to “reverse commuters” traveling to and from jobs on Long Island.

“Now, with the final leg of the third track completed, we are able to deliver the best benefit of them all — more Long Island Rail Road service in two directions,” said LIRR Interim President Catherine Rinaldi.

The LIRR first tried to move forward with the third track about a dozen years ago, but dropped its plans amid fierce opposition from residents along the route and elected officials concerned about the effects of construction. The original plan would have required the LIRR to build on private property, including some residents’ backyards.

In 2016, then-++Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, at the urging of project supporters, revived the third track, using a new design and public outreach process that minimized the impact on residents, and offered several new benefits, such as the elimination of eight grade crossings.

Still, Third Track faced opposition throughout construction, including in Garden City, where residents said the placement of utility poles and other elements of the project damaged the appearance of their village. The construction also resulted in frequent, major service disruptions, including this past weekend, when service was suspended between Jamaica and Hicksville.

“For a long time, people didn’t expect this project to happen,” said MTA Chairman Janno Lieber. “There were many reasons why people resisted it. But we proved everyone wrong.”

The first stretch of the track, from Floral Park to Merillon Ave. station in Garden City, opened in August. A few weeks later, the second segment was completed, to Mineola. The final section brings the track all the way to Hicksville. Hochul and MTA officials said the project was completed on time and $100 million under its original $2.6 billion budget.

Although the entire 9.8-mile third track is in place and already in operation, some work remains on the project, known formally as “Main Line Expansion”, including various station improvements. That work is expected to last beyond the spring.

Carle Place resident Peter Gaffney said despite Monday’s celebration, the project seems far from finished in his neighborhood, where new plantings are already dying and broken concrete and overgrown weeds are evident throughout the Carle Place station.

“They have more work to do,” Gaffney said. “They are rushing to try to get this work done because it is their fourth year [of construction]. There are a lot of things they did that weren’t necessarily right.”

Garden City resident Richard Corrao Jr. similarly said the project appears “very far from done” near the Merillion Avenue station, where project managers have promised improved landscaping. Corrao said, right now the station is “an absolute mess.”

“They are quick to cut the ribbon, but not as quick to fix the problem,” he said.

The long-awaited completion of the project drew praise from Long Island leaders and others who helped make the third track a reality.

“It was a long and difficult fight, but it was the right one that will benefit current and future generations of Long Islanders,” former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement. Cuomo resigned a year ago amid allegations of sexual harassment.

Matthew Cohen, president of the Long Island Association, a business group that advocated for Third Track — called it a “historic project” that will “result in economic growth, help the region’s businesses and change the lives of people who travel to New York City and Long Iceland.”



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