LIRR Committee provides update on proposed Third Track Plan
We are providing an update on matters concerning the proposed MTA/ LIRR Third Track plan. The MTA/LIRR has released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) related to the plan. It can be viewed through a link on the Village website, www.gardencityny.net.
When the Third Track Plan was first proposed by the MTA/LIRR last year, the Board determined that a two-prong approach would be the wisest move with respect to the project.
The first prong relates to the formal review and analysis of the Plan. As you know, the Board of Trustees hired a law firm with expertise in environmental law and these types of large public projects. We joined with the Villages of New Hyde Park and Floral Park in this regard. We also approved of the hiring of an engineering expert (Vertex) to assist. Those two entities produced a well-drafted submission and the members of the Village’s LIRR Third Track Committee assisted with the preparation of that submission. We included many comments we received from residents. We of course intend to review the Final EIS.
The second part of our approach relates to keeping an open dialogue with the MTA/LIRR. The Committee established by the Board has been actively involved in this effort. Among other things, the Committee has met on several occasions with representatives from the MTA and Governor Cuomo’s office. We believe that this dialogue will be helpful if the project is eventually funded and moves forward. Our goal throughout this process has been to minimize the potential negative impacts of this project, should it occur, on the residents of Garden City.
Why did we embark on a two-prong approach?
There has been a lot of talk about lawsuits and injunctions regarding the Third Track Plan. The Board of Trustees believed, and continues to believe, that placing all of our eggs in one basket is foolhardy. As our counsel has advised, the likelihood of stopping the project because of some litigation is unlikely. This is not a concession. We have to deal with realities.
Perhaps the project does not happen because of budget and capital plan issues. Budget and capital plan issues are not within the Village’s power to determine or control. Budget and capital plan issues of the MTA/LIRR are completely separate from the Village commencing litigation claiming that the EIS failed to address this or that point as thoroughly as it should. And even if we were successful in such a litigation, that still does not stop the project. The MTA/ LIRR can go back and address the issue and revise the Plan.
So where would that leave the residents of Garden City? Most of Long Island is in favor of the project. The rest of the state either does not care or would be in favor of the project. The reality is that some people are in favor of the plan, some don’t care, some care only if it negatively impacts them in some way and some are against it no matter what. That is true within and outside our Village. We propose for your consideration the following: if we ignore the MTA/LIRR and fight this tooth and nail, why would anyone then come back once the project gets the green light and give the residents of Garden City any protections?
The second prong we have undertaken - to keep an open dialogue - is just good business sense. That is what businesses do all day long. Plan for alternatives. Most lawsuits, no matter how much each side believes they are legally and morally right - settle. It is compromise. But more importantly, our goal is to lessen the impact of the Third Track Plan should it be approved and to ensure, to the extent possible, the safety and health of our residents.
How would we all feel if we fight tooth and nail and lose and then the MTA/LIRR does nothing to help us protect Garden City from any adverse impacts?
Because of our efforts, the plan already includes modifications or steps that we wanted to protect residents. For example, because we have an open dialogue with the MTA/LIRR, the current Third Track proposal includes:
1. Sound walls throughout much of the stretch of track in Garden City near houses and the Nassau Haven field at heights which will significantly lessen sound. To anyone who has stood with their kids playing baseball at Nassau Haven - is the current condition acceptable? At 6 o’clock at night there are already so many trains and so much noise it is nearly impossible to stand there. So this plan will actually benefit us there. Not only will trains no longer have to blow their horns to approach New Hyde Park Road, but the sound walls will lessen the sound of the traveling trains and reduce their visual impact. Further, as part of the proposed project, vibration controls such as resilient fasteners, rail pads and concrete ties, are proposed for the new third track;
2. A completely modified and enhanced Merillon Avenue Station, designed in a manner that the Village decided was appropriate for our Village;
3. A Merillon Avenue Station with no overpowering, imposing elevated crossover because we requested the initial plan be re-designed;
4. Assurances to help us avoid an increase in truck traffic on Nassau Boulevard. We have also been engaged with the Nassau County Department of Transportation to take steps to stop any potential increase for large truck traffic on Nassau Boulevard. We have gotten assurances from the MTA/LIRR and Nassau County that increasing the height of the underpass is not part of some plan to get more commercial truck traffic on Nassau Boulevard, and they agreed not to change the grade under the bridge to further keep it difficult for large trucks to get under the bridge;
5. A plan that doesn’t include any increase of the width of the underpass on Denton Avenue/Tanners Pond Road, thereby insuring that it does not become a commercial vehicle pass through. Why? Because we talked to them and insisted that it not be made wider. In fact, because we have a dialogue with the MTA/LIRR, they refused requests from some neighboring Villages to make it wider;
6. A completely renovated station at Stewart Manor, including re-paving, at the LIRR’s cost, of the parking lots there;
7. Promises to undertake vigorous planting of new hedges and trees along the tracks on Main Avenue;
8. No changes to the train schedule on the Hempstead line. In fact, the addition of the third track might help commuting on that track by removing barriers to track changes near Bellerose.
9. No plans to, as requested by a neighboring village, close Clinch Avenue access and provide for an elevated track five feet above grade level, ideas which we thought were far more harmful to Garden City.
We completely understand that the third track will disrupt portions of the Village while it is constructed, if it is approved. We submit, however, that no plan is perfect. No solution is perfect. In our opinion, however, doing nothing is not an option because there are some things in the plan that benefit all of us, such as getting rid of the cross over at New Hyde Park Road. That change will alleviate significant traffic issues at New Hyde Park Road and Clinch Avenue and, more importantly, stop the incessant horn blowing from passing trains in that neighborhood.
Commencing a lawsuit or fighting tooth and nail won’t change those problems. We have pointed out to the MTA/ LIRR that some of these problems can be solved through other means. They are demanding what would be, in their opinion, a more global solution to solve other issues that are important to other villages located along the Main Line. In our opinion, working with the MTA/ LIRR is more likely to have positive results - not perfect results - but positive results that lessen the impact on our Village and our residents.