Yesterday, the Long Island Index released a detailed report on the economic benefits of constructing a third track for the LIRR main line. The synopsis of the Long Island Index data can be read here, with a more detailed presentation here.

The third track is poised to bring a windfall of growth to the region. From an economic and social standpoint, it seems adding a third track is a homerun.

Or is it?

The question remains, while nobody should question the need for further investment in our rail network, can Nassau and Suffolk counties handle the influx of growth the third track is estimated to bring?

The growth projected from the LIRR third track is a game-changer for the region in terms of employment, personal income and population:

Employment impacts: 14,000 new jobs by 2035

Personal income impacts:  $3 billion in personal income in 2035

Population impacts: The economic growth and improved quality of life catalyzed by third track would attract 35,400 new residents to Long Island by 2035, of whom 39 percent are forecasted to be in the 25-44 age cohort, compared to only 20 percent of Long Island’s total forecasted 2035 population.

Source: The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of LIRR Third Track

Looking deeper into the data, it’s projected that by 2040, Long Island can see an influx of 53,400 people, and by 2050, HR&A is estimating an additional influx of 77,700 residents. (As a side note – most planners worth their salt don’t estimate beyond the 30-year window. Anything beyond is, for a lack of a better term, silly.)

The report and data issued is genuinely interesting, and should be read for those who don’t have the foggiest idea what this critical infrastructure project can do for the region, but the conclusions must be taken with a grain of salt. We cannot forget that the project, while deemed necessary for decades, is just one important piece of a much larger puzzle. The maximum effectiveness of the economic impacts highlighted by Rauch must also come with significant investment in our roads, industry and a tackling of the elephant in the room that most stakeholders avoid – the streamlining of property taxes and reduction of costs-of-living in the region. Then, and only then, can this significant investment in the LIRR’s mainline reap the benefits touted.

Sound planning is balancing the three often conflicting forces: social, economic and environmental, and the data report makes no mention of how Long Island’s environment can sustain the projected growth. The future of transit-oriented development is bright, but only if our current infrastructure can support it. Thanks to Suffolk’s distinct lack of sewers, parking capacity and so on, our downtowns aren’t quite ready for the population boom estimated by 2035 and beyond. If current practices continue, they won’t be ready any time in the near (or distant) future.

Further, Nassau County’s destiny is already essentially charted, thanks to the only 4,260 vacant acres that are left to play with. Suffolk’s future is still hazy, with an ample 42,000 acres available. Remember, just because it’s open doesn’t mean it should be built on. Our aquifers, as noted before, do have a carrying capacity, and our growth strategies must account for the balance needed to preserve them.

Overall, the recent report issued by the Rauch Foundation and their Long Island Index is a must-read, mainly because it shows the positive impacts investment in our existing assets can yield. It’s up to us and our elected officials, to execute the project and improvements needed to truly reap the return on our significant investments.