By Village Mayor Peter Cavallaro
As many residents know, Governor Cuomo and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) have resurrected the dormant Third Track project that would add a third rail track on the LIRR’s main line between Floral Park and Hicksville. This project was originally proposed about a decade ago, but was shuttered due to community opposition, particularly in the western-most communities.The proposal that is under consideration at this time is very different (on paper) than the original proposal. In fact, the Governor claims that it will have very little impact on our communities (including Westbury and Carle Place) while improving commuter rail service and achieving the important and universally-desired elimination of the street-level grade rail crossings (including our School Street crossing) along the nine-plus miles of mainline track. These crossings pose a continuous danger to pedestrians, motorists and the railroad, and they need to be eliminated, so the Governor is smart to associate this public safety benefit to the overall Third Track project.
I and the village have participated in at least five face-to-face meetings with the LIRR, DOT and Governor’s staff (including one with the Governor himself). These meetings have been productive and informative as to what the goals are for the project, and in providing some of the details. But a lot more information remains unknown at this time. While I am encouraged with the level of engagement by LIRR to date, we’ve reserved judgement on the efficacy of the project until we know all of the details.
We are coordinating with the mayors of the other mainline communities, and our other elected representatives at the town, county and state levels, to obtain all of the necessary information that we need to make sure our community is protected, and that our residents owning property adjacent to or near the LIRR right-of-way are protected.
We’ve also participated in the formal project scoping process—the process through which LIRR develops the scope of the project and of the necessary environmental impact studies related to the project as a whole. As part of the scoping phase, LIRR sought public input by holding a series of public meetings, and through a web-based portal that they set up to take comments. I attended and gave testimony at the LIRR’s scoping session at the “Yes We Can” Center in New Cassel. The village has also submitted a very detailed letter of more than 20 pages outlining the billage’s concerns, as well as areas that we want to have analyzed and discussed in the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Our comment letter covers a wide range of concerns, including the impact on properties adjacent to the LIRR right-of-way; issues involved with the School Street grade crossing elimination; impact on our downtown business district; the impact on train service at the LIRR station in Westbury; traffic impacts; parking impacts; sound, noise, vibration and other impacts during construction; staging of the project and the ultimate timeline, and many other areas of concern.
The DEIS and FEIS are required by law to outline all of the vital information and details that we will need to make a full assessment of the project and the impact on our community. The DEIS will be subject to public hearings where public input will be accepted. The LIRR will then be required to revise the DEIS (maybe more than once) before it issues the FEIS. Residents are encouraged to participate in those opportunities for public comment as they arise. These hearings will be announced later this summer. Once the DEIS and FEIS are completed, we will have a full understanding of how the proposal impacts our community, and will be in a better position to support or oppose it.
One final note, in the event, for whatever reason, the Third Track project stalls yet again, it is imperative for the Governor and all other parties to support LIRR improvement measures and grade crossing eliminations as a separate matter. These items are needed, in any event, to improve safety and rail service and should not simply be bargaining chips for the Third Track project. The mainline mayors and Nassau Village Officials Association have made some very sensible recommendations along these lines that, hopefully, the Governor will support if the Third Track project falters again.
I, the village board and our staff will continue to be active participants in this process to make sure that Westbury’s interest and residents are protected.