We’ll start with the better known of the two, in Queens where neighborhood transit groups have been fighting with national parks advocates over the LIRR’s disused Rockaway Beach Branch Line. Connecting Queens Boulevard to the current IND Rockaway Line, the ROW has been subject to a tense debate over its future. Parks advocates want to turn it into a linear park on the model of the High Line while transit advocates in Queens and politicians in the Rockaways want to understand if rail reactivation is feasible and beneficial. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had funded a pro-parks study, and the rail contingent wanted their say too. Now they’ll get their chance (even as QueensWay proponents grumble loudly about the state’s spending its money to study rail use of its underutilized rail rights of way).
As Assembly representative Phil Goldfeder announced today, the MTA will now conduct a full transportation feasibility study for this right of way. The report, due by June 30, 2017, will assess not just heavy rail reactivation but other potential modes of transit as well, including, I assume, light rail and a busway. The MTA will also explore “issues identified with reactivation” which could ran the gamut from recalcitrant residents to the costs associated with restoring a right of way that can kindly be characterized as in disrepair.
Goldfeder had been instrumental in securing language in the Assembly’s budget draft focusing on this corridor, and he celebrated in turn. “For tens of thousands of Queens families forced to endure some of the longest commutes in the city, this announcement by the MTA is real progress,” he said in a statement. “A comprehensive study of the Queens Rail will give voice to our transit concerns and bring Queens one step closer to having the transportation infrastructure we need and deserve. I have no doubt that this study will prove once and for all that reactivation is the best and most cost-effective way to speed commute times for our families and boost our local economy. I applaud Chairman Prendergast and the MTA for their foresight in recognizing the value of this old right-of-way, and I look forward to working with them as they complete this study.”
Meanwhile, the Staten Island West Shore rail line, recently the source of some interborough sniping, will get a similar treatment. Unfortunately, as the Staten Island Advance’s coverage of the story indicates, this is viewed as a victory for Sen. Andrew Lanza, he of the patently absurd transit obstructionism, but we shouldn’t penalize New Yorkers for voting to send a clown to the Albany circus. Lanza used his power in the Senate to hold up the MTA’s capital plan until the agency agreed to fund an alternatives analysis study, and as the agency will do in Queens, the MTA will similarly study potential transit uses for this right of way.
“I, along with Sen. Lanza and so many of my colleagues in local and state government have advocated for a transit study of the West Shore corridor for many years and it gives me great pride to announce this commitment,” Assembly rep Michael Cusick said. “For far too long, Staten Islanders have suffered through heinous commutes which rank among the worst in the entire nation. This evaluation will provide us with a clear path forward toward alleviating this issue, and I am so proud of the real results we have obtained today.”
Proponents believe light rail could be initiated along the right of way for around $1.5 billion, but that plan is a few years down the road. Following the analysis the MTA plans to conduct over the next 14 months, the agency would need funding for an environmental impact statement and, of course, someone would have to pony up dollars for light rail. But at least in Queens and on Staten Island, two dormant rail corridors are getting the study and attention they deserve. We’ll find out next summer what, if anything, comes next.