Proponents of a revived Long Island Rail Road station, which would also serve as the cornerstone of a transit hub near , say the project can't afford to be shelved for another five years.
"We've told local officials to let us help get this project done," said Michael DeLuise, president of the Melville Chamber of Commerce, referring to the LIRR's plan that was announced last year to not only build a new station just east of Route 110 on Conklin Ave. but also to build a second track on the LIRR's main line between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma.
As part of a larger, joint plan between the towns of Babylon and Huntington, the transit hub would also include new residential and commercial developments near the new Republic Station as well as a bus rapid transit system across Route 110.
However, the LIRR's ambitious plans for the "transit village" near Republic Airport hit yet another roadblock in April, when the agency announced that the plans for the new station—and second track—would have to wait at least another five years as part of the LIRR's next capital plan, scheduled to begin in 2015.
The LIRR had originally set aside $3.5 million in its proposed capital plan for 2010-2014 to study and design the project but the agency was forced to backtrack in order to satisfy a federal order to upgrade its collision avoidance system—at a cost of $350 million—by 2015. LIRR officials say they can't afford to do both projects simultaneously.
"We just can't afford to wait another five years," DeLuise said. "We met several times recently with elected officials and they all think the plan is a great idea."
DeLuise already has the support of New York State Senator Fuschillo, Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Steve Israel and noted economist Pearl Kamer of the Long Island Association.
Plans to reopen the LIRR Republic Station date back to 2001, when talks were underway to lease the former station site to a company that had already owned Airport Plaza, the 91-acre parcel directly across from the former station site.
Republic Station closed in 1986 due to declining ridership, partly as a result of the nearby Fairchild Engine & Manufacturing Company ceasing operations in 1986. The station had been used primarily by Fairchild and Republic Airport employees.
DeLuise says that cities around the world have learned that public transportation works and he says it is time that LI invest. "Right now, you can spend at least 45 minutes in rush hour traffic on 110," DeLuise said, also noting that a plan by Canon USA to expand its headquarters in the next few years would add at least a thousand more vehicles to the traffic congestion on 110.
"They always say people will never get out of their cars but they've done it elsewhere," DeLuise said, citing cities like Portland as examples where public transit has replaced a predominantly car-oriented lifestyle.
MTA board member Mitchell Pally has said in recent news reports that the reopening of the Republic Station wouldn't make sense without the completion of the double track project, but DeLuise disagrees. "Even if we can't get this done all at once, that doesn't mean we shouldn't start to do things, one at a time," he said.
"We're not going to have a station in the middle of nowhere," Pally told the press last year regarding the reopening of Republic Station.
For his part, DeLuise argues that Pinelawn Station, about a mile away from Republic, better fits that description. "Pinelawn used to serve people visiting loved ones at the cemetery but now it's seldom used. The LIRR should close that station and begin work on Republic."
In the absence of other funding forthcoming, DeLuise says that he's exploring alternatives to help push the project forward. "We're looking at ways that local businesses can either help fund or invest in this important project for the region," he said.