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-long Third Track through Nassau County is done, 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 ride,” Gov. Kathy Hochul announced at a news conference at a garage adjacent to the LIRR’s Westbury Station. The crowd included key figures from the project’s long history, including two former LIRR presidents and the current interim president.

The new track, stretching 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 through its bottlenecked Main Line for more than a century. The constrained infrastructure limited the railroad’s ability to run eastbound trains during the morning rush hour, westbound trains in the evening, and to work around 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 a the Long Island Rail Road’s new 9.8-mile Third Track, stretching from Floral Park to Hicksville, officials announced Monday. The LIRR says the added capacity will allow them to boost service on its Main Line, and to more quickly recover 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 are still unfinished.

  • Although the project has been largely praised by business and planning groups, some residents along the project’s corridor have complained about the impact from construction.

Combined with its also soon-to-be-completed East Side Access megaproject, the LIRR says it will boost 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 last leg of the Third Track having been completed, we are able to deliver with the best benefit of them all — more Long Island Rail Road service in two directions,” LIRR interim president Catherine Rinaldi said.

The LIRR first tried to move ahead with the Third Track about a dozen years ago, but dropped its plans amid fierce opposition from residents along its path and elected officials who were concerned about the effects from 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, under the urging of project supporters, resuscitated the Third Track, using a new design and public outreach process that minimized impact on residents, and offered several new benefits, such as the elimination of eight grade crossings.

Still, the Third Track faced resistance throughout construction, including in Garden City, where residents said the placement of utility poles and other elements of the project were damaging the look of their village. 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,” MTA chairman Janno Lieber said. “There were a lot of reasons people resisted it. But we proved everybody 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 last section brings the track all the way to Hicksville. Hochul and MTA officials said the project was completed on time and $100 million under the original $2.6 billion budget.

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

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

“They have more work to do,” Gaffney said. “They’re rushing to try to get this work done because it’s their fourth year [of construction]. There’s a lot of stuff that they did that wasn’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 officials have promised improved landscaping. Corrao said, right now, the station is “an absolute mess.”

“They’re quick to cut the ribbon, but not as quick to solve the problem,” he said.

The long-awaited completion of the project drew praise from Long Island leaders and others instrumental in making 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 sexual harassment allegations.

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

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