The Long Island Rail Road grade crossing at Urban Avenue in Westbury closed temporarily last Friday as part of the LIRR’s Main Line Expansion Project.
Aimed at alleviating traffic and increasing safety along its most congested sites, the $2.6 billion project includes eliminating all seven street-level grade crossings within a 10-mile project corridor as a third track is added to the railroad’s Main Line, between Floral Park and Hicksville. Two of the crossings will be removed and five will be replaced with underpasses.
Urban Avenue, which is now closed between Broadway and Main Street, is one of two crossings in the process of being renovated, with the other being Covert Avenue in New Hyde Park.
The MTA, working in conjunction with the Town of North Hempstead, is building a two way grade-separated underpass at Urban Avenue, which will have a sidewalk on its west side. Railroad Avenue will remain connected and bridge over the underpass.
The next closest crossing to Urban Avenue is School Street, the site at which a vehicle drove around the closed gate on Feb. 26 before it was slammed into by two trains going in opposite directions.
To prevent traffic congestion and bottlenecking, Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the LIRR, said that construction would not take place at two adjacent crossings at the same time. Rebuilding at the Urban Avenue crossing will not be complete until this fall, therefore construction will not begin at School Street until around spring 2020, Donovan said.
After grade crossings are eliminated, noise pollution will significantly decrease, as trains will no longer honk their horns and ring their bells at the crossing gates. Furthermore, in Westbury, such gates are in the down position from 27 to 35 percent of the time, creating traffic backups and increasing exhaust from vehicles.
Until the Urban Avenue crossing is complete, vehicles headed south will be redirected west along Prospect Avenue where they could make a left onto Union Avenue and a left onto Grand Boulevard to Old Country Road.
Vehicles traveling north from Old Country Road to Urban Avenue will be redirected to Grand Boulevard to make a right to Union Avenue followed by a right onto Prospect Avenue.
There will also be a free pedestrian shuttle service from the corner of Broadway Avenue and Urban Avenue, north of the tracks, to Main Street and Urban Avenue, south of the tracks.
The shuttle will be provided by 3TC, the contractor responsible for the expansion project, and will run seven days a week, every half hour from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“We are working hard to be able to reopen the rebuilt, safer roadway in just a manner of months,” said MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber. “The terrible crash in Westbury just last week is a painful reminder of the dangers posed by some grade crossings. Eliminating this railroad crossing and six others between Floral Park and Hicksville will make the area safer for everyone and also improve convenience for drivers and pedestrians.”
In the wake of the School Street accident, MTA police have also increased patrolling efforts at grade crossings, according to Donovan.