Broken MTA promises?

Questions swirl over $5 million for V.S. LIRR station renovations

Riders have complained of dirt and decay at the Valley Stream train station despite a $5 million renovation project announced roughly two years ago.
Riders have complained of dirt and decay at the Valley Stream train station despite a $5 million renovation project announced roughly two years ago.
Christina Daly/Herald

The puddle seems to always be there, cloudy with dirt, or urine or something else. Whether it rains or not, it’s usually there on the floor of the Valley Stream train station platform waiting room, rarely drying no matter how many cleaning crews have stopped by to mop it up.

The puddle, in addition to a perpetually broken vent cover directly above it, were a few of a handful of maintenance problems that riders say have gone unaddressed for years, at least since the station was last renovated in 2007.

Their persistence was made all the more baffling after a 2017 announcement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that $5 million was being earmarked to upgrade Valley Stream’s Long Island Rail Road station.

The planned renovations were supposed to include a new platform and waiting areas, LED lighting, Wi-Fi, charging stations, digital information kiosks and public artwork displays, according to previous Herald reporting, but over two years later, only a handful of those upgrades have materialized.

“I just wanted them to fix the leak and the vent and have heat upstairs,” said David Darmstadter, a Valley Stream native who is a frequent LIRR rider. “I did not want everything fixed, but now I’m going to find out where every penny of the $5 million went.”

Responses to a Herald social media inquiry about the condition of the station were mixed to negative, with more than 40 comments raising issues ranging from a constant smell of urine in the platform waiting room and the station’s general squalor, to an unreliable elevator, a leaky platform that leaves mineral residue on cars parked below, the presence of the homeless and, most commonly, a lack of parking.

The last issue, at least, is being addressed through the addition of parking along the north side of Sunrise Highway, which Valley Stream village officials announced in February, and is pending state Department of Transportation approval.

State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said she has been made aware of a number of maintenance issues at the Valley Stream station, particularly regarding cleanliness, the urine scent and garbage strewn near the station’s taxi stand.

“When I go to Albany, I usually take the train,” she said. “I see it. I see all of the issues people are talking about . . . and I’ve been after the Long Island Rail Road to tell them to clean up the station.”

Solages said that Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials had reported to her that they are working on some of the maintenance issues, and that she found the LIRR more responsive to ridership complaints after Philip Eng took over as its president almost a year ago.

Regarding the $5 million, she reported that some work had been done, including bolstering the station’s Wi-Fi, electrical and information infrastructure. She was, however, still seeking a comprehensive list of projects for the station, both slated and complete.

And the broken vent cover? “They believe it’s vandalism,” Solages said. “People stealing it for the aluminum.”

She added that MTA officials planned to replace the cover in a week as they searched for a long-term solution to the vandalism.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky was more critical of the lack of tangible progress at the station two years out from Cuomo’s announcement. “I think if you walked around the station, you’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of” the renovations he said. “People should wonder where their millions of dollars went.”

Kaminsky also said he would try to seek answers on what work had been completed and what was still scheduled, and vowed to hold the MTA to its promises.

“This chapter is not over. The assemblywoman and I have a lot of digging to do, and we’re not going to let the MTA get off with a half-completed project,” he said. “Riders were promised a multi-million-dollar repair, and we have to ensure the MTA delivers on that promise.”

For its part, the LIRR has issued semi-regular updates on its Valley Stream train station website, where it reported the installation of USB charging stations and digital information kiosks in December.

For projects that have not been announced, Solages said she would seek funds to be included in the LIRR’s upcoming five-year capital plan to address the leaking platform, which would require an overhaul of its concrete elements, which were originally built in 1933.

While questions remain over when riders can expect to see some more substantial improvements at the station, with the MTA website saying that its station enhancement project for Valley Stream was scheduled for completion in February, the mysterious puddle, at least, may soon see its demise.

An MTA spokesman reported this week by email that workers expect to fix what he described as water intrusion by Saturday.