Testimony on LIRR Third Track Project

MTA scoping hearing on LIRR Third Track project
May 24, 2016

Testimony of Kate Slevin, Director of Government and Community Affairs, Regional Plan Association

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Slevin, and I’m the Director of Government and Community Affairs for the Regional Plan Association, a non-profit research and advocacy organization working to enhance economic opportunity, environmental sustainability, and quality of life in the New York metropolitan region.

Regional Plan Association strongly supports the LIRR Third Track, a 9.8 mile long project to add another track to the LIRR between Floral Park and Hicksville and remove seven grade crossings.

The economic and environmental benefits of this project are clear - Long Island needs it to boost job opportunities, encourage more young people to stay on Long Island, and develop more walkable neighborhoods near train stations. The project will provide increased service and greater reliability to over 100,000 riders and is expected to add nearly $6 billion and 14,000 jobs to Long Island’s economy.  

It would also help update a transit system that has largely remained the same since it was constructed decades ago, allowing LIRR to catch up with Metro-North and NJTransit. Over the last 20 years, Metro North and NJTransit have made major investments in new capacity. These projects, including the construction of a third track along Metro-North’s Harlem Line, have allowed these systems to be more flexible, redundant, and better for reverse commuters and off-peak travel. As a result, Metro-North and NJTransit ridership has grown much faster than LIRR’s. Between 1990 and 2014, Metro-North ridership grew by 44% and NJTransit’s by a whopping 74%, while LIRR ridership only grew 19%. Land use policies that direct development near transit have complemented these investments. In fact, the third track along Metro-North’s Harlem Line resulted in a 30% growth in transit ridership and helped catalyze the revitalization of White Plains.  

Additionally, the LIRR Third Track will allow Long Island to reap the full benefits of other projects, including East Side Access, the MTA’s direct connection into Grand Central, and a second track from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma. These projects will expand the railroad’s capabilities, providing a one seat rides to the East Side of Manhattan and increasing train frequency on LIRR’s most crowded line. But without additional capacity, the LIRR’s Main Line will become a choke point as more trains squeeze onto two tracks. And better transit service leads to higher property values. For example, a study by Regional Plan Association found that East Side Access service will improve property values by an average of $7,300 for 400,000 Nassau and Suffolk residents, even more for those who live closer to the station ($11,000 within half a mile). 

In short, Long Island deserves the economic, commuting, and pollution-reduction benefits experienced by transit investments and smart land use policies in the Hudson Valley and New Jersey. 

As the project moves forward, it is essential that the MTA will work with the communities along the corridor. They will see substantial long-term benefits from this project –including property value increases, shorter commuting times, and the removal of seven grade crossings that will greatly reduce local traffic and pollution. But the project will have local impacts during construction. The MTA should set up a method for clear communication with those affected, and ensure the project is compatible with local land use visions. The MTA and DOT will need to evaluate options for the grade crossings that will reduce the impact of underpasses and bridges to neighborhoods.

We look forward to working with the governor’s office, government leaders, and the local community to make the project successful. Thank you.