Less then a week into the new year & our first major transit news is here as Gov. Cuomo unveiled his plans for major LIRR improvements via expansion of the main line between Floral Park & Hicksville. Here is more via an official press release I received:
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today unveiled the second signature proposal of his 2016 agenda: a comprehensive plan to transform and expand vital infrastructure downstate and make critical investments in the region. Most notably, the proposal includes a major expansion and improvement project for the Long Island Rail Road. The Governor outlined these initiatives at an event today in Nassau County, where he was joined by Long Island Association President Kevin Law, MTA Chairman Thomas F. Prendergast and LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski.
“Long Island’s future prosperity depends on a modern transportation network that eases congestion on our roads, improves service on the LIRR, helps this region’s economy and preserves the character of these great communities,” said Governor Cuomo. “This is a robust and comprehensive agenda to do just that and help build a brighter tomorrow for Nassau and Suffolk residents.”
The signature components of the Governor’s 2016 Long Island agenda are detailed below:
LIRR Improvement Program: Floral Park-Hicksville Expansion
Currently, the LIRR is limited by track capacity. At peak times, the LIRR is forced to run trains in one direction between Floral Park and Hicksville, making it impossible for reverse commuters and intra-island travelers. In essence, millions of people are limited by a system of transportation designed and virtually unchanged from 50 years ago.
In order to modernize the system, improve commutes for millions of customers, and reduce congestion on Long Island’s roads, the Governor is announcing a renewed effort to expand the LIRR’s capacity between Floral Park and Hicksville. The project will allow the LIRR to increase service, reduce congestion and train delays caused whenever there is an incident along this busy stretch of tracks and will enable the LIRR to run “reverse-peak” trains to allow people to take the LIRR to jobs on Long Island during traditional business hours. By allowing the LIRR to increase service between Floral Park and Hicksville, it will provide a more attractive alternative to driving and thereby reduce traffic on Long Island’s major east-west highways, like the L.I.E., Northern State and Southern State, and more trains will make it easier for Long Islanders to reach LaGuardia and Kennedy airports by train.
Unlike previous plans, this new effort dramatically minimizes the impact on communities along the right of way. The Governor’s proposal reduces the previous length of the corridor from 11.5 miles to today’s proposal of 9.8 miles. Even more importantly, the Governor’s proposal would confine virtually all construction activity within the existing right of way. The number of property acquisitions required would be reduced from approximately 200 in prior proposals to just 50 in the Governor’s proposal. Of those acquisitions, only 20 would involve residences, and the average resident acquisition would be five feet wide.
Property Owner Protections
The Governor’s proposal contains an innovative landowner protection program. Residential land owners would be offered the choice of compensation for the strip of land – on average five feet wide – that the LIRR needs to acquire, or the option of a full buyout. For commercial landowners they would be offered compensation, plus assistance, if needed, from Empire State Development to remain in their community.
Across the whole corridor, the LIRR will conduct environmental reviews including studies to analyze noise mitigation strategies and new rail technology.
Grade Crossing Safety Reviews
Additionally, the LIRR will conduct a comprehensive safety analysis to address and ensure all aspects of safety at the seven remaining street crossings.
Robust Community Engagement
Finally, the LIRR is launching an extensive community engagement program to ensure local input is heard and addressed. This will include direct outreach to property owners adjacent to the tracks and broad outreach across all affected communities – elected officials, community organizations and advocacy groups. Meetings will be organized in all communities along the corridor to provide information and to solicit input. LIRR will also launch a new website to provide a venue for residents to provide feedback directly to the project team and to receive continuously updated information about the project.
Two out of every five LIRR riders use the main line between Floral Park and Hicksville. It is the route used by the busy Ronkonkoma and Port Jefferson Branches. Some Montauk Branch trains use the corridor as well, and all Oyster Bay Branch trains use it for a portion of their trips. With just two tracks, this busy corridor becomes congested during rush hour. In the event that a train becomes disabled, the LIRR has very few options to route trains around a disabled train, and the result can be cascading delays rippling across the line and impacting thousands of people.
The LIRR Expansion project will also complement the East Side Access megaproject, which is doubling the LIRR’s capacity into Manhattan by building a new terminal underneath Grand Central Terminal.
“The next generation of young people wants to live in urban areas, whether it is within the five boroughs of New York City or in thriving suburban downtowns and transit-oriented enclaves with easy access to train transportation,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast. “Our efforts to expand the Main Line will support transit-oriented development around Long Island and make it easier for Long Island to attract businesses and employees. This isn’t experimental, it’s a well understood direct correlation that we’ve seen happen already in the region served by Metro-North. When there is train capacity to allow New York City residents to ‘reverse commute’ to suburban jobs, people take that opportunity and the job growth follows.”
“When I first came to the LIRR, I was impressed with the magnitude of the operation, and the lengths that our people go to think creatively to overcome challenging situations,” said LIRR President Patrick Nowakowksi. “But I was very surprised that an operation of this magnitude – the central spine of the busiest commuter railroad in the United States – was at its heart very fragile. A third track will enable us to provide a better experience for our customers with better on-time performance and fewer hassles from delayed trains. And it will attract new customers to our environmentally friendly mode of transportation.”
Expanding Long Island’s Transportation Infrastructure to Connect to Key Regions: Beyond Rail
The Governor’s 2016 agenda also includes a number of initiatives to strengthen Long Island’s transportation infrastructure – specifically by investing in its airports and exploring the potential for new access projects.
Build a Federal Inspection Station at MacArthur Airport
The State will close a $6 million funding gap to support the $10 million renovation and expansion of an existing 10,500 sq. ft. facility at MacArthur Airport. The expansion will accommodate a Federal Inspection Station that will allow flights from Europe and the Western Hemisphere to land at the airport without preflight immigration screening. This facility will allow up to 400 passengers to be processed per hour and will pave the way for significant economic growth resulting from an estimated 1,200 new jobs located at the airport from airlines and the federal government as well as additional regional tourism.
Republic Airport/Route 110 Business Corridor
To encourage economic development around the airport, Republic was designated as a tax-free site through the START-UP NY initiative as part of the 2015-16 budget. START-UP NY will play a critical role in boosting business and investment at Republic Airport; the program will help qualified companies start, expand or relocate their businesses near the airport to increase jobs and economic activity.
Following an RFP process for a new operator to replace NYSDOT at the airport launched earlier this year, AVPORTS has been selected to bring private sector experience to manage airport operations.
Separately, the state is marketing tax free sites to attract new business opportunities. Five of those sites, with a total of 14.5 acres of available space, will go to market for aviation or commercial development best proposals. The state will also propose redeveloping a fifth, northern parcel, into a new, 12.5 acre mixed-use, transit-oriented development with a new LIRR stop.
The Governor is proposing to invest $50 million for the Ronkonkoma Hub parking structure and infrastructure improvements. This will lead to 2.2 million square feet of mixed use development and leverage more than $600 million in private investment. The project will also create more than 1,000 temporary and permanent jobs.
Building on the existing infrastructure of the LIRR’s busiest train station, with access to a regional airport, this project creates a vibrant new downtown of mixed use buildings and great public spaces on once blighted 50 acres. With $600 million of private investment slated for the site, the state investment in parking, sewers, and regional transit system will provide the foundation for the economic development potential for the region to be realized. The regional transit system will connect major assets along the corridor such as Stony Brook University, Stony Brook University Hospital, Suffolk County Community College, the Ronkonkoma Hub, and the Long Island MacArthur Airport.
New access proposals
To further meet the unique transportation needs on Long Island, the Governor’s 2016 agenda includes two efforts to study possible alternative access points for the region. First, the Governor is proposing $5 million to study the feasibility of a tunnel connecting Long Island to either the Bronx, Westchester County or Connecticut. Second, the Governor is proposing an investment of $1 million to study the potential for a deep water port at the old Shoreham Power Plant, which would remove commercial traffic from Long Island’s congested roads.
Support Long Island’s Assets
The Governor’s 2016 agenda also includes a number of initiatives to support and invest in other critical assets on Long Island.
Center for Bioelectronic Medicine
The state will invest $50 million – leveraging $300 million in private sector investment – to build a state-of-the-art Center for Bioelectronic Medicine at the Nassau Hub. This project will support 650 jobs in the region, as well as cutting edge research to commercialize next generation medicines. It is the first piece in the development of the larger new research and commercialization corridor on Long Island.
Protecting Long Island’s Beaches and State Parks
Today the Governor announced a $230 million agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to protect 6 miles of Long Beach Island. The federally funded Long Beach Island Project will include the shoreline from Point Lookout through the western boundary of the City of Long Beach and provide sound coastal resiliency measures to reduce the risk to lives, homes, businesses, critical infrastructure and natural environment from future storms.
The project will feature a system of new beaches, dunes and groins that will stabilize Long Beach Island and make it more resilient to future coastal storms. New groins, or stone structures that extend out into the ocean to help to trap and hold the sand through the area, will be placed at the town park in the Town of Hempstead, and existing groins in the town and City of Long Beach will be improved. Approximately 250,000 tons of stone and 4.7 million cubic yards of sand will be used to build the beaches and dunes.
As part of his 2016 agenda, the Governor proposes increasing the State’s overall investment in Long Island State Parks to $182.5 million. Building on the more than $128 million the State has invested over the past five years, the Governor will commit an additional $54.5 million to State Parks on Long Island, including a substantial federal investment in resilience in Hempstead Lake State Park along the Mill River.
When it comes to transit initiatives in our region, I tend to be skeptical as we tend to get promised big things but are left underwhelmed or still waiting for them to become a reality (Second Avenue Subway anyone?).
I do feel the expansion of the LIRR main line is something that should have been done years ago. As the island’s population continues to rise, the transit options continue to lag far behind the needs of said population.
For anyone who uses the LIRR, you can vouch for how overpriced & underwhelming the service is especially for those needing to reverse commute to & from the city. Don’t get me started on the nearly 3 hour gap of no NYC bound service on the Ronkonkoma line during peak rush hour periods when the demand for such service is there.
However all needs aside, I would have liked Gov. Cuomo to share where the money for these improvements are coming from. At this time we can’t say it is coming from the MTA Capital Program as the project was not even listed in the most recent published edition which is from October. Even if it was listed there, the Capital Program technically has not even been approved by the state yet so for all we know what is posted will be delayed even more.
In the end, LIRR riders should not get overly excited about Gov. Cuomo’s plans until concrete evidence is there that they will be coming to fruition in the near future.
xoxo Transit Blogger