In May, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors allocated $1.95 billion to construct a third Long Island Rail Road track down the center of Nassau County, on the Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville.
The project would add 9.8 miles of new track to the LIRR system, which spans a total of 700 miles between all of its lines.
Kevin Law, director of the nonprofit Long Island Association, a business advocacy group, calls the planned project “one of the most important infrastructure projects for Long Island in decades.”
We agree. According to LIA projections, the project would create 2,250 construction jobs and increase the gross regional product by $910 million because of those jobs.
Here’s the thing: The State Capital Projects Review Board now gets to decide whether the project can move forward. The board comprises a representative of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Assembly and the Senate. The governor and Assembly are on board, Law says. Now we are awaiting word whether the Senate will OK the project.
The panel has until the end of June to decide. If it does not act, the third track will, by default, move ahead. Only one no vote by a review board member, however, and the project would be derailed. We are thus imploring all three members to allow this vital project to proceed.
The Long Island Rail Road’s first tracks were laid in the 19th century. The LIRR is, in fact, among the country’s oldest rail networks. Its design and infrastructure are woefully outdated and in desperate need of modernization.
Adding the third track would greatly increase commuter capacity in central Nassau. The original tracks were constructed in the 1800s, when Long Island’s population was all of 100,000. Most folks were farmers and fishermen and rarely made the big trip into New York City. Now the LIRR serves as the main mode of transportation to and from the city for 300,000 people a day.
We hear so much about people leaving Long Island for less costly regions. That’s true. The Island has, however, actually seen a net gain in population, largely because high numbers of immigrants have moved here. Suffolk’s population remained largely unchanged between 2000 and 2012, while Nassau’s increased by roughly 78,500 people, according to census data.
New people bring more cars, which means more congestion on our already clogged thoroughfares. Long Island must significantly increase its public transportation options, or traffic gridlock will only worsen in the coming decades.
Suburbia is largely the product of our car culture. People drive to their single-family houses, rather than take buses or subways to their apartments, as people do in the city. That has led to suburban sprawl, which Long Islanders are all too familiar with.
In recent years, urban planners have developed new suburban models. We especially like transit-oriented housing. Smaller apartment complexes are located in downtown business districts near train and bus stations, giving commuters easy access to car-free transportation to and from work. By adding population density to our downtowns, we then create critical masses of consumers to support our small local businesses. The model just makes sense.
First, though, we need workable rail and bus systems, but both have suffered because of years of budget cuts and neglect on Long Island. It’s about time that we begin to make a real and sustained investment in our transportation infrastructure.
According to the LIA, a Main Line third track would help attract young people to the region. Many of the millennial generation want nothing to do with the car culture of the mid-20th century. They want the freedom to move about without the financial burden of car ownership. Thus we should focus our efforts on increasing public-transportation alternatives, both into the city and out of it for reverse commuting. Without young people, the region cannot continue to grow and prosper.
Finally, public transportation is just good for the earth. We know that atmospheric carbon dioxide is driving global warming. For every gallon of gasoline that you burn while driving, you emit 20 pounds of CO2 into the skies. Taking public transportation cuts carbon pollution by a whopping 90 percent, according to the nonprofit countyourowncarbon.org.
For all these reasons and more, the third track is just a good idea. Period. We encourage readers to write to their state representatives to say so.