NEW YORK - It’s a project that has taken decades of debate and planning, a price tag in the billions and four years of construction, but on Monday, the Long Island Rail Road's third track expansion finally opened.
"We’re under budget by over $100 million," said New York Governor Kathy Hochul. "We’re not on schedule, we’re ahead of schedule."
The first section of the third track runs from Floral Park to Merillon Avenue in Garden City on the main line.
MTA officials say the more than $2 billion revolutionary project will boost capacity along a troublesome bottleneck in the system. It will also allow the LIRR to run more trains and quickly recover from unexpected disruptions.
"It’ll have additional service and big things like reverse commuting. It’ll help the economy. It’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned," said Gerry Bringman with the LIRR Commuter Council.
In New Hyde Park, officials say service will increase by 67 percent. Right now, 56 trains run on weekdays. Under the new schedule, there will be 94.
"This is a game changer for our customers and the community," said LIRR interim president Catherine Rinaldi.
By the end of the month, the second section of the track which will reach Carle Place is expected to be finished.
"It allows for more consistent speed and gives the opportunity to work around blockage when it develops and runs 40-percent more service," said MTA chair and CEO Janno Lieber.
It‘s a win for riders who for years have dealt with delays and disruptions. But not everyone is pleased with the progress. Some residents who live near the Merillon Avenue station hope more will be done to reduce noise and pollution.
"We have to do the best we can with what we have," said Paul Rothenbiller of Garden City. "The third track is built."
Work on other parts of the 9.8-mile stretch to Hicksville will continue until around April when the third track is expected to be fully operational.