LI Smart Growth Working Group

Long Island Smart Growth Working Group Meeting Features LIRR President Phil Eng

The Long Island Smart Growth Working Group meets throughout the year to plan and aid in the implementation of state and local policies that impact downtown revitalization and infrastructure investment on Long Island. The group is comprised of local civic, chambers, municipalities, environmentalists, labor, infrastructure and design professionals and organized by Vision Long Island. 

Since 2007 the Working Group has tackled major infrastructure projects like Route 347, sewer investments, economic development financing, traffic calming, transit oriented development and a host of state, federal legislation and local community projects.

On Tuesday, the Smart Growth Working Group hosted over 100 local business, community, government and development leaders at the East Farmingdale Fire Department with featured speaker Long Island Railroad President Phil Eng who led a discussion about recent and upcoming infrastructure investments, updates on Double Track, Third Track, upgrades at Penn Station, and plans to improve the railroad’s performance, reliability and communication.

LIRR President Phil Eng, in his opening remarks, began by saying that he was pleased to be able to attend, especially because a derailment over the weekend in Penn Station could have sidelined his participation, with thanks given to those who worked around the clock to ensure that service was restored quickly and with as little disruptions as possible. Eng discussed his previous work with NYS DOT on upgrades to Rote 347, working with local community organizations, Tri-State Transportation and Vision Long Island. He mentioned that the LIRR “is an economic engine that makes Long Island thrive”, and without it, he finds it hard to see how Long Island survives.

Mr. Eng talked about how he feels that it’s important to get out there and get feedback from commuters, and feels that “it’s important for people to be able to know that the LIRR is listening, that the LIRR does care about what is going on.”  Recently, the first round of “Meet Your Manager” sessions took place, with commuters having the opportunity to discuss concerns and questions regarding their LIRR experience with their branch manager, with more meetings of the sort upcoming.

Double and third track progress was touched on, with the importance of those projects, as well as Penn Station and East Side Access mentioned as well. Speaking of the need to be proactive when dealing with issues, Eng reported that here were 205 switch failures in 2017, with 10 switches causing 44% of the failures, causing delays. Two have replaced and repaired to date, with the others being done this season, even though it was not in the current capital plan. Also in 2017, there were 417 trains delayed due to vehicles-on-tracks, with 65 grade crossings having roadways parallel to the tracks, with GPS or poor visibility causing drivers to turn onto the tracks by mistake. In order to help remedy the issue, high visibility safety delineators were installed at these locations by Memorial Day of this year on an accelerated schedule, and installation at all of the crossings will be complete this year. Additionally, the LIRR is partnering with Waze to prevent accidental turns onto grade crossing tracks, with 30 of the crossings already having those protections via the app.

Other infrastructure improvements outlined to reduce some of the 2600 trains that were delayed due to weather related events were working on readiness for hurricane season and winter storms, the clearing of 180 miles of overgrown vegetation, 60 snow switch covers installed (2 years ahead of schedule), the installation of 14 additional third rail heaters, insulation of critical components within Atlantic Tunnel manholes to mitigate water and salt intrusion, accelerating replacement of 80 utility poles, replacement of M7 door components to reduce door failures during the winter, and more.

The new President was incredibly open to working with local neighbors, commuters and other stakeholders, saying that “at the end of the day, we go through communities. It doesn’t matter if you ride the railroad or live near the railroad, or you don’t even ride the railroad, the railroad is important to everybody, and I need to make sure that we talk to everybody. It’s the only way we can deliver a project.”

Ensuring that customers have real-time information, such as delays and accurate duration of the delays, countdown clocks have been installed at all stations, and installation of GPS on the trains to ensure accuracy.  Previously, the practice was to clean the train cars at the end of the route. Now, at key locations, teams will be able to clean cars at stations while the route is still active. Frequency of station cleaning at all 124 stations has also increased by 30%.  “The idea is that we want to create a much more comfortable environment for our riders,” said Eng.  Two new programs for riders were also announced including Summer Saturdays which allows LIRR monthly ticket holders to use their ticket .

Several in attendance also provided updates regarding their area’s progress. Trustee RJ Renna from the Village of Lindenhurst discussed the 260-unit transit-oriented development that was recently approved across from their LIRR station, a walkability study being conducted by GPI for their downtown, a CFA application to construct a master plan for the village, and a new brewery opening up in a 100-year old historic building. Mayor Dennis Siry form the Village of Amityville announced the approval of a TOD district, 115 units of housing next to their LIRR station, Tritec as their master developer, and a $288,000 grant for a bike path and more walkability around their train station. Deputy Mayor Jorge Martinez from the Village of Freeport, New York State’s second largest village, discussed walkability improvements around their train station on Main Street that will help many who use the LIRR station and ravel on NICE bus. Mayor Ralph Ekstrand from the Village of Farmingdale encouraged those in attendance to visit the Village on the 2nd and 4th Thursday nights of July and August for their Main Street Festivals, and talked about a public hearing coming up in September for a 54-unit complex on Main Street by their firehouse, with plans for the first floor of the development to have a 225 seat performing arts center and gallery.

Trustee Sarah Oral from the Village of Roslyn talked about Phase 2 of Roslyn Landing which will bring more townhomes to the downtown, and the village’s wok towards infill development. She mentioned that “people are starting to become more accepting to housing in the downtown.” Suffolk County Legislator Steve Flotteron highlighted some of the highpoints of Bay Shore’s downtown revitalization, mentioning that there was a 50% vacancy rate 20 years ago. The popular waterfront is doing well, and will be more accessible with a NY State grant aimed at linking the downtown, ferry and LIRR station with bicycle paths. He also noted that Northwell Health’s Southside Hospital has been acquiring derelict buildings adjacent to the property for office and medical use. Evlyn Tsimis, Nassau’s Deputy County Executive for Economic Development, mentioned the various projects in different stages in Nassau County, including new ideas to better utilize the Nassau HUB. She said that the count is “changing he tenor of economic development from a steamroll to collaboration”.

Irene Guarasci from the Hicksville Downtown Revitalization Committee talked about the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative’s progress, including recently announced projects, and expressed hope that it will be the beginning of a beautiful walkable downtown. Karen Moltalbano from the Baldwin Civic Association discussed recent hurdles in the revitalization of Grand Avenue and Merrick Road, with the developer pulling out of the opportunity, but was encouraged by the concept of an overlay district being floated for the area. Julie Marchesella from the Elmont Chamber of Commerce reminded those attending the importance of shopping locally, with Tammie Williams of the Elmont Community Coalition shared the community’s concerns about inadequate transportation for her area, and expressed hope that the LIRR’s role in development at Belmont Park would be transparent. Thomas Grech of the Queens Chamber of Commerce talked about the need to closely work with neighbors in Nassau County, and expressed that transit options should be increased. Gina Coletti of the Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers gave an overview of a recent press conference held in Plainview urging state legislation for New York State to have the ability to collect appropriate sales taxes on out-of-state online purchases.

Updates were also given by Mike Deering of LIPA, who said that $90 million was spent on energy efficiency and renewables programs, that there are two programs for downtown economic development, and a possible program upcoming for low-to-moderate income discounts and time-use rates.  Kathy Wisnewski of National Grid gave an overview of programs that they have to help with economic development, including those areas with vacant storefronts, and efficiency programs. Mike Setzer of NICE Bus announced the launch of LINK in parts of East Meadow, Merrick and Bellmore where routes were cut over the past few ears. The service allows riders to order a ride with NICE’s smaller 14 passenger buses, choose a pickup location and time, and view the proposed itinerary Michelle Schimel from SONYMA spoke on how owning a home, condo or coop is a starting ground and opportunity to acquire wealth, and that meditation has been an activity she has enjoyed when there are minor train delays.

You can read more about the meeting here.