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LIRR to replace Little Neck foot bridge this week

Nearly three months after the 54-foot pedestrian bridge connecting commuters to Manhattan- and Port Washington-bound train platforms at the Little Neck station of the Long Island Rail Road was demolished, a new one will finally be taking its place. First constructed in 1989, the overpass was decommissioned after being deemed unsafe due to structural deterioration from age.

The new pre-fabricated pedestrian bridge will be installed starting this Friday and work should be completed by Sunday, according to the LIRR Community Affairs. The parking lot at the station will be closed to make way for a crane and other equipment from 6 p.m. Friday through 2 p.m. Saturday.

“The replacement of this pedestrian overpass has been long awaited and will be an enormous relief to the hundreds of commuters and residents that use it every day,” City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) said. “I thank the LIRR for completing this project before the start of winter for the benefit of the community.”

The lack of a bridge caused concern and agitation for some residents.

Lou Toscano, 56, was issued a criminal summons by MTA police in October after he noticed his train to Penn Station coming in on the opposite platform. Racing to make his train, Toscano said he crossed the tracks illegally as the arms were dropping and was met by a cop in an unmarked car on the other side.

“Instead of the cop being there as a crossing guard, they’re punishing people,” he said, admitting that his actions were unsafe but arguing for police to regulate foot traffic and mitigate disaster instead of waiting for pedestrians to put their lives in danger before writing tickets. “The LIRR demolished the only pedestrian bridge that crossed the tracks safely and has forced commuters into a police trap. If they were interested in safety, they would be wearing bright orange vests directing traffic, not handing out criminal summons to pedestrians trying to get to work from their car.”

But the active police presence at the station is part of the campaign by the LIRR to step up safety measures at dangerous crossings. A car in Westchester County was struck by a train, resulting in fatalities, and a pedestrian got hit at the Little Neck station about a year ago at the crossing going to Manhattan when the train came in on the eastbound tracks.

“There is a stepped-up effort statewide to better police railroad crossings,” a LIRR spokesman said in October, explaining why the severity of summonses issued in the area have been seemingly aggressive. “In part, that’s from the tragedies up in Westchester Country. But at Little Neck since there is no longer a pedestrian bridge available, we have an obligation to ensure safety.”

Little Neck was not only a high risk area for pedestrians crossing the tracks without the bridge, but since the station has been a site where deaths have occurred, the MTA police may have placed a high priority on the crossing, the spokesman said in October.

“We know the loss of the overpass has been an inconvenience for customers, but their safety was our first concern and we appreciate their patience,” LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said. “Going pre-fab was the quickest way to replace the old span and our forces look forward to getting the job done.”

Safety has been a concern for Community Board 11. CB 11 District Manager Susan Seinfeld said the board had received multiple complaints from residents about the well-being of children crossing the tracks to get to school while the bridge was out.

CB11 had requested better policing at the crossing, specifically for someone to direct foot traffic at the railroad tracks, according to Seinfeld.

The installation of the new prefabricated bridge was not expected to disrupt train service.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

See full story at TimesLedger