New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced a mitigation plan for Long Island Rail Road commuters expected to face widespread summer delays during Amtrak’s planned track renovation work at Penn Station.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, MTA interim executive director Ronnie Hakim said the authority is still determining the cost of the initiative, which will include ferry service and shuttle buses to and from Long Island; improved connections to New York City subway stations; and half-price overnight truck tolls to encourage nighttime truck use and minimize congestion on the Long Island Expressway.

A Long Island Railroad train in Pennsylvania Station in New York, U.S., on Friday, May 26, 2017
A Long Island Rail Road train at Penn Station in New York. The MTA announced plans to help LIRR commuters through planned track work at the station. Bloomberg

The MTA is one of the largest municipal issuers with roughly $37 billion in debt.
“We’re exploring all options for how to pay for this plan,” Hakim said at the authority’s lower Manhattan headquarters, though she ruled out LIRR fare increases. “I know who’s not going to pay and that’s the Long Island Rail Road customers.”

Quasi-federal Amtrak has scheduled the maintenance between July 10 and at least Sept. 1.

Flanking Hakim were interim MTA board chairman Fernando Ferrer and former MTA chief executive Joseph Lhota, a member of the Penn Station Task Force and now senior vice president, vice dean and chief of staff at New York University.

Officials plan to maintain LIRR Penn Station passenger capacity during peak hours by adding rush-hour trains and lengthening the number of existing trains.

Hakim ruled out fare reductions for riders of the LIRR, which operates as an MTA unit.

“We really invested in an alternative service strategy,” she said. “Every system has its own way of doing things. We chose to prioritize on service.”
Late last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered fare reductions to offset service reductions and loss of direct service on some NJTransit routes to Penn Station, the tracks for which Amtrak owns. The reductions, said Christie, will “compensate for Amtrak’s failings” which he said would cost NJTransit about $15 million.

"We're exploring all options for how to pay for this plan," said MTA interim executive director Ronnie Hakim.

Hakim, who spent 18 months in 2014 and 2015 as executive director of NJTransit sandwiched between tenures at the MTA, said the two-month contingency is part of a multi-agency action plan that includes other transit authorities such as NJTransit and Amtrak, and the New York City Department of Transportation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has ordered the MTA to complete major bridge and tunnel construction projects by July 8, to alleviate traffic woes going to and from Manhattan. Cashless tolling will begin soon on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island and the Robert F. Kennedy Triborough Bridge, which connects Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens.

The MTA will launch ferry and bus service – free to LIRR weekly and monthly ticketholders -- from about a dozen locations on Long Island, with two new ferry routes to serve 2,300 riders. An additional option for South Shore service is under consideration, according to Hakim.

“An incredible amount of granularity has gone into the planning for this,” said Hakim.

Ferry service is bound to raise questions about whether the MTA could make it permanent, given the expansion of ferries within New York City’s five boroughs.

Additionally, about 200 buses will leave from eight park-and-ride locations on the island. In an attempt to minimize nightmares on the Long Island Expressway, the MTA plans to reduce tolls at related crossings and assign additional help crews to clear breakdowns and wreckage more quickly.

Attorney Paul Liggieri on Friday filed a lawsuit on behalf of himself and two commuters against the MTA in New York State Supreme Court in Mineola. They seek unspecified damages and legal fees, alleging that the railroad’s delays and cancellations have caused overcrowding and endangered passengers.

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