2005-11-11 / Front Page

Floral Park Mayor To Address LIRR Expansion

By Stephanie Mariel Petrellese

Phil Guarnieri, mayor of the village of Floral Park, will speak at the December 1st Garden City Board of Trustees meeting concerning the Long Island Rail Road's plan to add a third track as part of its Main Line Corridor Improvements Project. Guarnieri and a large group of residents and officials from Floral Park and Bellerose have organized a grass-roots effort to oppose the plan.

"We think it can be overturned if handled properly," said Nicholas Episcopia, chair of Garden City's Environmental Advisory Board and a member of the Garden City Board of Trustees, at last Thursday's Board of Trustees meeting. He pledged support to other communities, including Floral Park, which will be more directly affected by the expansion. The Village's property owners' associations have vigorously petitioned local elected representatives to help stop the project.

Episcopia commended Guarnieri for his efforts and said he will speak for approximately 30 minutes and then answer questions from the public. According to Episcopia, the Capital Review Board, which allocates money to the MTA, has initially denied the LIRR funding for this project and has requested a very specific Environmental Impact Study (EIS). While this does not guarantee that the project will ultimately be denied funding, it does indicate that the board will make sure the railroad has been very thorough in its planning.

The draft EIS is scheduled to be ready by the spring of 2006, which will then be followed by public review and comment. Formal hearings will be held in early 2007 and a final EIS will be prepared by the summer of that year. Construction is slated to begin in 2009.

Episcopia announced that the railroad has extended the deadline for comments to December 31 due to the large volume of responses already received. Mail comments to: Mr. Peter Palamaro, LIRR Public Affairs, Jamaica Station 1131, Jamaica, NY 11435 or send an e-mail through the Web site www.mta.info/mta/planning/mainline.

The project also includes the elimination of five grade crossings and improvements to bridges and stations, which most people support. The main line corridor runs 11.5 miles between Queens Village and Hicksville train stations, and includes Bellerose, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Merillon Avenue, Mineola, Carle Place and Westbury. The railroad contends that the third track is needed to accommodate anticipated ridership growth and relieve track congestion during peak periods. They foresee a significant increase in reverse commuters, who travel east during morning peak hours.

At a LIRR public scoping meeting in June, Garden City Mayor Gerard Lundquist said the railroad should not proceed with plans for the project until a number of questions are sufficiently answered. Episcopia said that the project should only continue with the station improvements and grade crossing eliminations.

Although the railroad has said they will try to avoid property acquisitions, people who live in nearby villages and towns are afraid that there is no guarantee that their backyards will not be taken away. They are also concerned that additional trains will mean more noise, pollution and structural stress on their homes. Several residents are also worried that the project will move the track so close to their homes that property values will be negatively affected. During the construction phase, several people cited concerns about rodent infestation and elimination of parking, which is already in short supply in their towns.

Many said they are concerned that the third track will be used to accommodate more freight trains. Some contend that the railroad has not disclosed freight content when asked in the past. Elisa Picca, LIRR's chief planning officer, said at a scoping meeting that the current two tracks are able to handle freight trains and that it was not a reason for the project.

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