MTA will spend $121 million to renovate Hicksville hub
Work has begun to “rebuild, reimagine and modernize” the Hicksville train station, the third busiest on the Long Island Rail Road. The $121 million project was first announced in February of 2015 by Governor Andrew Cuomo and a more detailed announcement was released Sept. 21.
“That train station needs the work. Seriously,” said Hicksville Chamber of Commerce President Lionel Chitty. “How can you have the busiest train station, a hub and transfer, and not have it [looking like] it’s a flagship station?”
Derek Stadler is a member of the Hicksville Historical Society and has written extensively online about the history of the station.
“Considering I am a daily commuter to Long Island City from Hicksville, any changes to the overall station are welcomed,” he stated. “It has been somewhat neglected for years and it shows. Its grimy, poorly lit, smelly, and unattractive. The only historic element at the station is the Penn Station eagle in the parking lot.”
The upgrades will “include Wi-Fi and USB charging stations throughout the station; an enhanced interior waiting room; new platforms with glass-enclosed, heated waiting rooms; improved lighting; a translucent canopy roof; improved stairways, escalators, plaza elevators, a video security system, audio and digital communications systems and better signage. The renovated station will also include new laminated art glass installations by New York-based artist Roy Nicholson, who designed the mosaic tile art work in the station ticket office in 2001. With construction beginning this month, the station work is expected to be completed by the spring of 2018.”
According to Cuomo, the current station, now more than 50 years old, is plagued by poor drainage and cracked concrete as well as elevators and escalators that are nearing the end of their useful lives.
Cuomo also announced that the central hub and main transfer point, Jamaica station, will receive funding to create a new platform and tracks. Both were identified as key stations in the so-called “main spine,” the 40-mile corridor from Jamaica to Ronkonkoma.
“Revamping these two heavily-trafficked transportation hubs will provide better, faster and more reliable train service for Long Island Rail Road riders,” Cuomo said. “Time and time again, transportation investment has a ripple effect of progress and economic growth on the surrounding community. This rehabilitation is designed to fundamentally improve riders’ experiences at Hicksville.”
He also noted that the investment seeks to “kick-start residential and commercial development in the hamlet’s downtown.”
Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast of the parent Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was present at a conference on sustainable development in Melville on Sept. 21 and gave a presentation about the work on the two stations and the MTA capital projects overall. He also moderated a panel on the link between transportation and community development.
As a slide of the existing Hicksville station went up, he stated, “From a design standpoint, it is utilitarian, it is functional. But it’s not necessarily attractive, both in the way it looks and the features it provides to customers. It’s more than aesthetics. It’s the environment. It’s where you stay while waiting for a train. Do you feel secure? Do you feel warm? Do you feel connected?”
Hicksville resident Mohinder Singh Taneja, president of the American Diversity Forum, Inc., asked a question about the parking situation around the Hicksville station.
“Parking has been a challenge,” admitted Prendergast, “When I was president of the [LIRR] from 1994 to 2000, the only place you could put up a parking garage was in Ronkonkoma. We talked about a parking deck up two levels or down two levels, but that dynamic has changed. As Eric [Alexander of Vision Long Island, a fellow panelist] said, you can’t come into a community and tell people what to do. It has to be done in concert with what the plans of the community are.”
Prendergast also noted that areas around train stations are valuable real estate for developers seeking to build transit oriented housing/development, one of the topics at the conference.
For Chitty, if the whole emphasis of what the MTA is doing is to get more people on the trains so as to reduce the carbon footprint, he’s all for it. He is likewise enthusiastic about the proposed changes at the Hicksville station.
“But the MTA has to do something about the parking in Hicksville around the station,” he said. “We’re maxed out, and the business community has been complaining for years about the parking situation.”
Back in May, the governor had announced that he had put the Hicksville station’s modernization on a fast track, thanks to an agreement between the LIRR and the chief contractors, Railroad Construction Company of Paterson, NJ, and Citnalta of Bohemia in Suffolk County.
“To have such an important transportation hub encumbered by construction for three years was out of the question,” Cuomo said. “In order to speed up the process both the LIRR and the contractor have worked out a unique construction methodology shortening the total construction time from 35 to 22 months.”
Cuomo also touted “an innovative 2013 Project Labor Agreement between the LIRR and the Buildings and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk that has helped reduce construction costs by 10 percent.”
The estimated cost to rehabilitate the station is $68.7 million. Another $52.3 million will be used to construct the Hicksville North Track Siding, an additional 3,000 feet of track along the existing railroad right-of way. It will connect Track 1 at Hicksville to the siding situated about one-half mile west of the station platform and will enable the railroad to add three trains to the morning and afternoon peak service between Hicksville and Manhattan when its $10.2-billion East Side Access Project is completed in 2022. The Access will for the first time allow LIRR trains into Grand Central Terminal. The side will also improve “the railroad’s ability to reroute trains in the event of maintenance, construction or service disruptions.”
LIRR President Patrick A. Nowakowski said that the railroad will coordinate with the Town of Oyster Bay to accommodate weekend work that is necessary to carry out the construction. Construction is not expected to impact weekday service.
The Hicksville station handles 22,000 customer trips per weekday. Trains to the Ronkonkoma and Port Jefferson branches pass through Hicksville every day, as do selected Montauk Branch trains. The station is also served by major Nassau Intercounty Commuter Express (NICE) bus routes running north and south on Route 106 and Route 107.