Public hearing held for Mastic  peninsula railroad crossings
U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin, who supports the additional at-grade railroad crossing, speaks in front of Brookhaven community members and other elected officials about the dire need for more crossings within the Mastic peninsula.

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Public hearing held for Mastic peninsula railroad crossings

Story By: JULIANNE MOSHER
8/31/2017


A several-decades-long fight is being brought to Brookhaven Town’s attention regarding the need for additional at-grade railroad crossings in the tri-hamlet area within Mastic and Shirley.

“For decades, elected officials, emergency service representatives and residents have been advocating for additional railroad crossings on the Mastic/Shirley peninsula,” Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) said. “There is no question that it is needed, and the continued pushback from the LIRR is unacceptable. As the area grows, this problem only gets worse. This is not a want, but an absolute need, and I will continue to work with all levels of government until our quality of life and safety here on the peninsula is improved.”

On Wednesday, Aug. 23, a dozen elected officials, emergency service officials and community members packed into the William Floyd High School auditorium to comment and discuss the dire need for at least one at-grade railroad crossing to alleviate the traffic near Mastic Road. This public hearing was the first step in continuing the process to make a change. Every speaker in attendance agreed that it is important and concluded that the railroad crossing is indeed necessary.

The meeting started off with a PowerPoint presentation conducted by engineers and surveyors at Nelson and Pope, who gathered data over a three-month-long traffic study to determine where the best location for a new crossing would be. The five-step process included: field inspections; turning movement counts during rush hour and weekends; accident data based on the most recent five years for collisions near the LIRR crossing locations; determining feasible locations for the new crossing; and a final analysis that would evaluate and compare the effects of each different crossing locations.

Fifteen locations were considered and three locations were evaluated using data from the New York State Department of Transportation concerning accidents adjacent to the three existing at-grade railroad crossings in Mastic, Mastic Beach and Shirley. The data of those streets included Smith Street, William Floyd Parkway and Mastic Road. 

Over the last five years, those locations had 91 percent of total accidents occur adjacent to the grade crossings – 9 percent were on roadway segments leading to at-grade crossings and 46 percent were rear-end collisions, which could have contributed to traffic congestion or distracted driving. The data noted that zero accidents were related to the railroad.

Engineers from Nelson and Pope went to the sites of Hawthorne Street and Madison Street, which they said are two locations that would significantly benefit due to the most connectivity, and videoed the traffic the streets obtained. In the PowerPoint, one video showed two separate rear-end collisions that happened within minutes from each other in the mile-long traffic buildup. 

This type of traffic causes stress for not only commuters, but for emergency responders who answer to over 1,000 alarms a year; ambulance workers who answer to over 3,000 calls a year; and even school bus drivers who are trying to get the 9,000 students in the William Floyd School District to class.

After explaining the pros and cons of each possible intersection, the overall conclusion of the study was that traffic will improve from the existing condition with a new at-grade crossing and in the event of a closure of William Floyd Parkway, delays would be reduced by 20-40 percent – a fear of many people living on the peninsula if there were to be a natural disaster, which could essentially leave people stranded. 

“The time for a solution to this dangerous traffic and railroad crossing situation has come,” Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville) said. “The LIRR and New York State Department of Transportation is allowing a life-threatening situation to continue in not providing an ingress and egress route for first responders as well as an evacuation route and daily relief for residents in Shirley, Mastic and Mastic Beach.”

Officials from the Long Island Rail Road attended the meeting and gave their opposition to the additional at-grade crossings in the latter part of the public hearing, stating that they believe they are unsafe and the technologies are not proven yet to be effective.

Brookhaven Councilman Dan Panico said that the community spoke loud and clear alongside every one of their elected officials across party lines. “We have always been together on this issue and have decided to stop taking ‘no’ for an answer by formally taking the first step in our legal action against the LIRR under the NYS Railroad Law by having this hearing,” he said. “We will now meet with our engineers and our legal team to go over the testimony and will soon announce our next step.”

Both Democratic and Republican officials both agreed that the peninsula needs a change for the 57,000 who live in the three included towns. Within Mastic, Mastic Beach and Shirley, there are only three railroad crossings. Compared to North Patchogue, Patchogue Village and East Patchogue, with a population of less than 46,000, 12 railroad crossings are spread out. The study also showed that Center Moriches has four crossings for a population of only 8,000.