2017-04-21 / Community

LIRR Committee provides update on proposed Third Track Plan

SUBMITTED BY THE VILLAGE OF GARDEN CITY

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?

Simple.

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.

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Foolish to think that you

Foolish to think that you will get what was promised. Look at East side access. Totally over budget and 10 years behind schedule. This will be the same.

Garden City is Being

Garden City is Being Railroaded While I believe the mayor and his team are doing yeoman’s work in making our voices heard and fighting a good fight, the bottom line here is that Garden City is being railroaded by Governor Cuomo. And unfortunately, two dynamics are letting him succeed. The first is the Governor’s desire to hide the real changes taking place at key locations until the last minute and the second is that --- unlike St Paul’s and other past threats to our livelihood -- Garden City residents are not being loud enough. So we will lose and the damage will be unrepairable. The reality is that the changes to the Merillon Avenue station have been cloaked in mystery since inception, mentioned only in three or four vague bullets in their “environmental” reports. I believe this was done intentionally and with a single goal in mind: to suppress town hall participation. I’ve spoken with a number of neighbors who read these reports and decided not to attend the town halls because they were reassured no significant changes would take place, a point that was reaffirmed by the representatives that greeted commuters at the station. The most significant change is raising of the Merillon overpass to 14 feet. This will have a number of negative implications to our great town. First, it will allow large tractor trailer trucks to freely move through the heart of our town, from Jericho to Hempstead Turnpike – an activity that is illegal and currently prevented by the height of the overpass. There is an important word in the materials being provided. That word is discourage. Not prevent. Releasing these large vehicles onto our streets will not only clog up Garden City streets but it will also destroy the character of our city. Anyone who has driven down Nassau also knows that this change will turn the one-lane section of Garden City South into a parking lot. The burden of guarding against this activity will now be shouldered by the Garden City police department, which does not have available resources. It is the Governor’s position that because trucks routinely seek to go under the bridge and get stuck we should simply raise the overpass and let them through. It is true, large trucks do get stuck under the underpass on occasion. In each case the driver either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the law, and ignores the posted signs, which are highly visible and illuminated with blinking lights. But the Governor’s decision to raise the height of the overpass to my mind essentially reclassifies Nassau Blvd to allow commercial traffic. The Governor seems to think that raising the overpass so 18 wheelers can fit and relying on the same series of signs will prevent them from going through. With all due respect Mr. Governor, Garden City residents are smarter than that. It is also worth noting that Garden City is receiving few benefits in exchange for this decision by the Governor. We will receive no subsidies to increase our police department to enforce these laws. We will receive no tax relief for the loss of property value, and we will all now have to navigate 18 wheelers moving through the center of town. I truly believe there is a simple solution here if the Governor is willing to listen to us and if Garden City residents make their voices heard. I completely understand the Governor’s positon that he does not want trucks hitting the bridge. That has the potential to disrupt train service and cause unwanted traffic jams. No one wants that. However, he must also understand that we, as Garden City residents, do not want 18 wheelers navigating through our town and negatively impacting our quality of life. Therefore, I believe the logical solution would to keep the train crossing at the same height it is today. However, we should also erect the same series of barriers the Governor is proposing. If he truly believes that erecting these barriers will effectively guard against the problem, then there should be no need to raise the height of the overpass. Early warning mechanisms such as chains, hanging rubber tubes and other deterrents will be enough to alert truck drivers that they are too low to get through. Also, make the fines astronomical if they try. A few truck drivers losing their jobs for breaking the law will get the word out quick. Also, alerting trucks well before the train crossing will also give them an opportunity to turn around, which they will not have the ability to do once they get too close to the underpass. There also needs to be signs and other alert mechanisms at the locations where the problems originate – where Nassau Blvd. meets Hempstead turnpike and where Nassau Blvd. meets Jericho turnpike. By the time they get to the train overpass it’s already a big problem, forcing them to either turn in front to Garden City High School or try to turn around by 711 in New Hyde Park. Again, I think our town officials are waging an admirable battle and doing yeomen’s work on our behalf. But we as residents are not doing enough to have our voices heard. The Governor is trying to sneak all this past us and we have to stop him. Call your local representatives. Get involved!!!

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