MTA Eliminates School Street Crossing

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Gov. Kathy Hochul addresses the media at the opening of the School Street underpass. She is joined by, from left: North Hempstead Town Councilmember Viviana Russell, MTA Construction & Development President Janno Lieber, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Westbury First Deputy Mayor Steven L. Corte. (MTA photo)

On Nov. 13, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, MTA Construction & Development President Janno Lieber and local elected officials opened the new School Street underpass in the Village of Westbury and Hamlet of New Cassel. The undergrade crossing separates it from the Long Island Rail Road Main Line. It’s the fifth railroad crossing to be eliminated in the past 14 months—on time and on budget—as part of the LIRR Expansion Third Track Project.

Looking south on School Street, with the sidewalk on the east side. (MTA photo)

“New York continues to lead the nation in modernizing and strengthening our transportation infrastructure and the removal of the School Street grade crossing is just the latest example of these efforts,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “Not only was this project completed on time and on budget, but this new underpass will improve safety and bring a higher quality of life to this community by reducing noise, air and traffic pollution.”

In coordination with municipal, county and state government partners, MTA Construction & Development rebuilt the railroad crossing at School Street as a two-lane grade separated underpass with a sidewalk on the east side. The roadway project began with utility relocation in September of 2019, followed by LIRR signal modification in April 2020.

“The removal of this grade crossing will improve traffic flow and increase safety on our roads,” Hochul said.

The bridge was replaced the weekend of Oct. 3-4, and by rush hour on Oct. 5 trains were already crossing the span.

To date, the School Street railroad crossing is the fifth of eight eliminated through the LIRR Expansion Project. Last year, crews transformed former crossings at Urban Avenue in New Cassel and Covert Avenue in New Hyde Park into safe grade-separated underpasses.

School Street was closed to traffic on May 18 to allow excavation to begin as crews assembled the new bridge at an adjacent parking lot. The bridge was put into place over the course of just a single weekend, Oct. 3 and 4.

The School Street railroad crossing was the site of a tragic collision on Feb. 26, 2019, in which the three occupants of an automobile lost their lives after driving around a downed crossing gate. The grade crossing eliminations will also reduce traffic backups, as vehicles will no longer need to wait at crossings as trains pass, which can be as much as 35 percent of the time during rush hours.

Looking north on School Street, before and after the grade crossing. (MTA photo)

North Hempstead Councilmember Viviana Russell said, “As eight of the Expansion Projects were taking place in my district we embarked on conversations with MTA/Long Island Railroad and their contractor 3TC a few years ago. With the first two projects being completed at Urban Avenue and the Cherry Lane Bridge there were many ‘growing pains.’ At the end of it all, now that the School Street grade elimination is coming to a close and just a few more projects to be completed, we look forward to utilizing the community benefit funds in the areas that were most impacted by this project and I believe this project will be a safer, positive benefit to all of Long Island.”

A westbound train crosses School Street in this file photo. During rush hour, gates were down as much as 35 minutes. (MTA photo)

Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro said, “The Westbury community is very happy that the School Street grade crossing has been eliminated, as for decades that location had posed a grave danger to motorists and pedestrians. There was a fatal accident at that location, and there had been others in the past as well. We’re also very pleased to see the completion of an important infrastructure project that will enhance the road and rail systems servicing the community. As the Third Track Project progresses, we see the great benefits that we had anticipated coming to fruition.”

The bridge was erected nearby and then slowly pushed into place by specialized equipment in the course of a weekend. (Photo by Frank Rizzo)

Senator Anna M. Kaplan said, “Last year, our community was shaken by a terrible tragedy at the School Street grade crossing that took three lives and caused a significant disruption to the entire LIRR system. This incident was the final in a long history of tragedy at this location, which was considered one of the most dangerous in the entire region. Today begins a new chapter for our community, with the opening of this new underpass, that has dramatically improved public safety, while simultaneously reducing local traffic throughout the area. I applaud the hard-working men and women who worked tirelessly on this great achievement even through the pandemic, and I thank Governor Cuomo for setting an ambitious agenda to modernize the Long Island Railroad and improve infrastructure on Long Island.”

After striking the car that went around the gates at School Street last year, this westbound train derailed and destroyed a portion of the platform at the Westbury station. Part of the platform penetrated the first car, and the train engineer ran from his post and thereby saved his life. (Photo by Frank Rizzo)

Assemblymember Charles Lavine said, “The railroad bridge is going to be a tremendous benefit to our community. It will guarantee convenient transportation for our community in the long run. As well as the added safety benefits, building the overpass has eliminated the grade crossings, which will ensure safety for drivers and reduce traffic in the area. The railroad bridge is also going to aid our environment with fewer cars idling in traffic, the air quality in the surrounding area will improve. Overall this is a great step to ensuring our residents are safer and have adequate transportation.”

North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said, “I would like sincerely to thank Governor Cuomo and the Long Island Rail Road for their commitment to this infrastructure program that eliminated the grade crossing at School Street. The new underpass will alleviate train congestion and improve traffic safety.”

The damage to the first car after the collision is evident. (Photo by Frank Rizzo)

According to a press release, “This fast pace of work and the use of unique engineering methods limited the associated traffic detour to just six months.”

Funding for LIRR Expansion Project comes from the MTA’s 2015-19 Capital Program and 2020-24 Capital Program. Once the work is complete, the LIRR will have increased its capacity by roughly 50 percent. Together, the upgrades will help transform transportation across the region and provide a reliable, state-of-the-art rail system for Long Islanders. Visit aModernLI.com for more information.

—Submitted by the MTA

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