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Town to Take Public Testimony for Added LIRR Grade Crossings

panico 2 rr1Brookhaven Town officials are encouraging residents and all stakeholders to save the date: August 23rd when they will host residents, merchants, fire and emergency medical service personnel, school district representatives, elected officials and all stakeholders during a public hearing at William Floyd High School at 6 p.m. to testify on what town officials say is an urgent need for additional Long Island Railroad, (LIRR), grade crossings in the heart of the Tri-Hamlet community.

In its present state, town officials and residents alike assert that limited north-south access across the railroad tracks is a worst case scenario in the event of an emergency evacuation or traffic accident.

Brookhaven Town Sixth District Councilman and Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico said the purpose for the meeting is to solicit public input where a detailed analysis mapping out the need for more at-grade crossings, devised by the Melville-based Nelson & Pope Engineers and Land Surveyors will be unveiled. “For decades this area has struggled with the need for more at-grade railroad crossings and residents have been asking for additional crossings in the Mastic-Shirley-Mastic Beach area, and rightfully so,” Panico said. The peninsula is bound to the west by the Carmans River, to the east by the Forge River and to the south at the Great South Bay at Smith Point where Panico said the lack of access over the tracks is exacerbated in the event of a call for an emergency evacuation or traffic accident. “We saw firsthand just how difficult travel was when work was being done on William Floyd Parkway at the railroad crossing in May,” Panico said. “It was an absolute nightmare to get around the area and around the peninsula.”
Panico asserts the issue “can be alleviated by the Long Island Railroad making a concession and realizing the area is deserving of additional crossings.” The three at-grade crossings in the area include William Floyd Parkway, Mastic Road and Smith Road. Local intersections under scrutiny to create at-grade LIRR crossings include William Floyd Parkway and Mastic Road, and Hawthorne and Madison avenues. “We’re going to let the engineers and highway department make their recommendations,” Panico said. “For years the LIRR’s ‘one size fits’ all theory is absolutely the wrong approach,” the councilman said.

To strengthen their case to institute additional at-grade railroad crossings, town officials are following the process of Section 90 of the New York State Railroad Law. Brookhaven Town Senior Assistant Town Attorney, Kenneth Lauri explained the first step is for the town to give notice to the LIRR that it will hold a public hearing (scheduled for August 23). “Once the determination has been made that an at-grade crossing is necessary, we send the Nelson & Pope study, public testimony and transcripts to the New York State Department of Transportation,” Lauri explained, after which time a hearing will be conducted before an administrative law judge. Lauri said after decades of attempts to increase the number of at-grade crossings, this latest attempt is the town’s “best chance because this is the first time” officials are following LIRR 90 guidelines.

According to contrasts and statistics cited by Lauri, the Tri-Hamlet area has one crossing for every 19,000 residents. Compare that to an at-grade crossing for every 7,000 people in Patchogue and an at-grade crossing for every 2,010 people in Center Moriches, and the attorney underscores the necessity for additional at-grade crossings in the Tri-Hamlet area.

Mastic Beach Fire Department commissioner and volunteer Bill Biondi said there is a definite need for the at-grade crossings in the Tri-Hamlet community: “As far back as the late 1990s when (former) Councilwoman Carol Bissonette was on the town board, the Peninsula Evacuation Coastal Storm Committee was created, because you can’t get off the peninsula in the event of an emergency.” But the committee could not gain enough steam to create more at-grade railroad crossings.

Fast forward to 2017, and Biondi said a little-known fact is that Smith and Mastic roads “technically would flood in Category 2 hurricane force winds.” Like Councilman Panico, Biondi cited the recent work at the railroad crossing at William Floyd Parkway. “There were major, major problems getting out of Mastic Beach,” Biondi recounts. Biondi suggests an at-grade crossing at Hawthorne would be the most logical and best solution because traffic patterns relative to other sites would have more zigzags and, Biondi emphasizes, “It’s all about public safety – to get the people out of harm’s way as soon as possible and you want to move them out in the most direct route.”

Speakers will be asked to present their testimony in three-minute intervals during next week’s public hearing.

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