The state-funded feasibility study for the QueensWay — a misguided effort that would turn an underused rail right-of-way into an underused park — is well under way with no comparable effort aimed at studying rail use, and Queens politicians are taking note. Already some local politicians and Congressional reps have voiced concerns over the sole focus of the study, and these politicians have instead urged rail reactivation. Now, another Queens State Senator and Borough President candidate has added his voice to the fray.
As Streetsblog reported yesterday, Tony Avella is the latest to call for rail reactivation. Joining with a group called the Queens Public Transit Committee, Avella has called for a study that includes rail as well. Stephen Miller has more on these efforts:
Rockaway Beach Branch rail service is the group’s priority. “The most efficient way is this train system,” said committee leader Philip McManus of Rockaway Park. “This goes all the way from South Queens all the way into Manhattan, and the Select Bus Service will not do that.” McManus said a study should determine whether LIRR service, which would not requite tunneling, or subway service, which would require a new tunnel beneath Rego Park connecting to Queens Boulevard, is the preferred option. “Whatever works,” he said at this morning’s press conference on Liberty Avenue. “We need a legitimate study, but it has to be first that the public needs to support this. That’s why we’re here.”
U.S. Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Greg Meeks support federal funding for a feasibility study, and Avella joins Assembly members Phil Goldfelder and Mike Miller in advocating for rail.
If a feasibility study is conducted and political support lines up behind reactivation, the project would still need to secure funding from the MTA capital program. Avella, who opposed congestion pricing as a council member and mayoral candidate, thinks casinos could be a source of revenue for the project. “Hopefully the public will approve the gambling referendum that’ll be up in November,” he said. “That’s gonna generate billions of dollars.”
“It’s a transportation line,” McManus said, adding that it would be difficult for rail and trail to share it. “We don’t want a park, okay? We want a transportation option.”
The ask right now is a simple one: As the state is paying to study the practicalities of building a park through parts of Queens that likely won’t see much usage, the state should study the practicalities of restoring rail service along the Rockaway Beach Rail Line. Our governor has noted the need to build up infrastructure to better prepare for future storms, and the right of way already exists. Maybe the study determines nothing is feasible; maybe the study finds rail service could be restored. Either way, the study should go on.
As with any capital project, though, this one needs a clear champion. Avella is the fifth politician to either issue an explicit statement on the rail preference or appear with groups advocating for such a solution. If he were to win his Queens Borough President race, he could deliver some discretionary funding for a study, but nothing is stopping one of the other four from finding a grant of money either. The rail efforts won’t move forward without some funding. Now is the time for someone to step forward with it before QueensWay “wins” by virtue of being able to act quickly and coherently.