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Report: $10B LIRR Expansion Could Help Long Island Economy

Long Island Index reports two approved projects would benefit even more from third track on main line.

Report: $10B LIRR Expansion Could Help Long Island Economy
Story by Matthew Hogan.

A report released Monday from Long Island Index titled " How the Long Island Rail Road Could Shape the Next Economy" suggests that the Island could see long-term benefits from more than $10 billion of investments into the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).

The Index's report comes less than one month after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) voted to raise its fares across the board, including a 9 percent LIRR hike set to impact riders starting March 1.

Currently it costs riders $254 for a monthly ticket and $11.50 for a peak one-way trip from Bethpage to Penn Station.

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The $10 billion investment includes three projects, two of which are already underway: the East Side Access project; a second track from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma; and a proposed third track on the LIRR Main Line.

The East Side Access project — the first major expansion of the LIRR since 1910 — and is slated to be finished by 2019. The project, estimated at near $8 billion, will give LIRR riders direct access to Grand Central Terminal and east Midtown Manhattan, which the Index's report referred to as "the densest concentration of jobs in the country."

The MTA has also started work on a second track from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma. The second track has an estimated cost of $405 million, according to the Index's report.

The first operating segment, from Ronkonkoma to Central Islip, is included in the MTA’s current five year capital plan and scheduled to be completed in 2015. The LIRR’s current schedule estimates completion of all segments by 2018, assuming funding is available early in the 2015-2019 capital plan.

Despite the project's low price tag in comparison with the East Side Access project, the report states that "until the MTA and the New York State Capital Plan Review Board and legislature agree on the scope and funding for a 2015-2019 capital plan, completion of the project cannot be assumed."

The report suggests that "the value of East Side Access and a second track to Ronkonkoma would be even greater with a third track on the LIRR main line." The proposed third track would, according to the report, enhance service reliability, efficiency and flexibility, "with 50 percent more capacity on the main line to reroute trains, move trains more easily between yards and stations and add service as needed."

The proposed third track was pulled from the last MTA capital plan and there are no immediate plans for its construction.

In regards to the two approved projects, the Long Island Index reported the following findings:
  • With East Side Access, nearly 400,000 homeowners in Nassau and Suffolk Counties will see the value of their homes rise by an average of $7,300.
  • With expansion of the Ronkonkoma line to two tracks and the main line to three tracks, employers will have access to many more potential workers — at least 350,000 in Mineola and 226,000 in Hicksville, for example — increasing the attractiveness of Long Island to prospective employers. In addition, major economic development initiatives, such as Wyandanch Rising, the Ronkonkoma transit village project and the Republic Airport hub would have a much greater chance of success.
"Public transit plays a crucial role in economic development, providing access to jobs and housing, and linking centers of activity," said Robert D. Yaro, President of Regional Plan Association, whose company helped plan the report. "Yet the reach and capacity of the [LIRR] has remained unchanged since it first connected to Manhattan’s Penn Station in 1910. Long Island can benefit many times over from strategic investments in the LIRR."

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