Op-Ed: More Questions About Cuomo’s Belmont Boondoggle

The arena would be built on the parking lot at the bottom left corner of this photo, next to the existing LIRR station, even though the new train station would be built a great distance away, requiring shuttle buses.
The arena would be built on the parking lot at the bottom left corner of this photo, next to the existing LIRR station, even though the new train station would be built a great distance away, requiring shuttle buses.

More and more advocacy groups are questioning an MTA deal that would construct a new LIRR rail platform near Belmont Park to serve a new arena for the New York Islanders. The new station would be on the main line and would require arena-bound customers to get on shuttle buses — even though there is an existing LIRR stop at Belmont, albeit on a spur. This morning, Rachel Fauss of Reinvent Albany raised serious issues with the plan. Here is her testimony (note: Fauss mentioned another MTA project, but we have edited this coverage to focus on the Elmont plan):

We are here to express concern about the lack of transparency and clarity about the board approval process, and the all-in, ongoing costs to the MTA for the proposed Elmont LIRR station.

[The Elmont station] was not a part of the 2015-2019 MTA Capital Plan, and was not identified as long-term priorities for system expansion. [It is] advancing because Governor Cuomo asked authorities other than the MTA to take the lead on their implementation: Empire State Development Corporation for the Belmont station. While [the project is] being managed by other authorities, [it] require[s] MTA staff time and new, ongoing, annual LIRR operating expenditures for Elmont. To date, the MTA Board has not voted to back or facilitate [the] project.

Reinvent Albany has a number of questions which should be answered to address public concerns about the Belmont project.

  • When will the MTA release the study it conducted of the Belmont station? It was expected to be completed in September of 2018 and has not been made public?
  • What are the operating costs for the new Elmont station? In a December 2018 letter to ESD, LIRR President Phil Eng said it will require a “sustained source of funding in LIRR’s operational budget.” President Eng said in Governor Cuomo’s July 8 release that there will be no capital cost to LIRR, but there will be new operating costs as the station will provide full-time, year-round service.
  • Who will pay for any potential capital cost overruns?
  • What is the total cost of improvements that the MTA has already made to the Belmont spur, and what are the operating costs for expanded service?
  • If the Elmont station is proposed as an amendment to the Third Track project, how will it meet environmental impact statement requirements under the State Environmental Quality Review Act?
  • How will the Third Track project contractors fit this in to an already large contract which includes 50 major activities and already costs $2.6 billion?
  • If the MTA Board approves the Belmont project, will board members with conflicts of interest recuse themselves? Board Members Kevin Law and Haeda Mihaltses currently work for organizations that either support the project, or have been involved in the redevelopment project.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments. [For info on how to submit a public comment, visit the last page of this PDF.]

Rachael Fauss is senior research analyst for Reinvent Albany, which advocates for more transparent and accountable state government, including for state authorities like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

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