A Dozen-Plus Electeds Back QueensLink Subway Expansion
12:01 AM EDT on August 5, 2022
Queens get the transit.
Elected officials from multiple levels of government in Queens joined forces on Thursday in a letter asking for a big bag of money to study reactivating an old transit right of way in southeast Queens, the latest effort to move the project known as QueensLink off the conceptual page and into reality.
The letter, which was signed by 15 elected officials and 2 community board chairs from Queens, asked Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams to fund an environmental study to get what backers called "a complete understanding of the challenges and opportunities" of restoring trains connecting Rego Park and Ozone Park. Project backers say that an environmental impact study would cost about a million dollars and take between nine months and a year.
"Since the MTA already completed a feasibility study, the next steps outlined in that report called for an EIS," said QueensLink Chief Design Officer Andrew Lynch. "There are a lot of unanswered questions about how the design will work, especially where and how the parks will be built along side the rail, and the EIS is needed to answer those questions."
Lynch also took a shot at the MTA's previous feasibility study for the train, which it buried in a drawer after completing it in 2018. The study, claiming the project would cost over $8 billion, was finally released in 2019, prompting QueensLink supporters to release their own report last year arguing that the project could be done for around $3.5 billion. They claimed the MTA was trying to sandbag a project by relying on unrealistically high non-construction cost pieces of it to inflate the cost of the whole thing.
"[An EIS] will also get us closer to a real cost estimate, not the inflated one the MTA came up with," said Lynch.
The QueensLink would revive the 3.5-mile abandoned Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach Branch, which exists in pieces along Woodhaven Boulevard, in order to provide subway service on the M train between the 63 Drive-Rego Park subway station and the Liberty Avenue station at a minimum.
Supporters of the project have also suggested it could be extended to run all the way to Rockaway Park-Beach 116th Street, and that the additional line could provide enough extra capacity on the Queens Boulevard line that the G train could run to Forest Hills again.
The MTA study on the proposal to reactivate the line found that it would serve about 47,000 riders per day, but QueensLink supporters also say that extra capacity from a full extension down to Rockaway and the extension of the G to Forest Hills could help 225,000 riders per day.
The letter explicitly compares the QueensLink to the Interborough Express, with the supporters writing that "the QueensLink is to South and Central Queens what the IBX is proposed to be for Brooklyn and Western Queens." The Interborough, a long-discussed idea to restore passenger service to a freight rail line between Bay Ridge and Jackson Heights, got Gov. Hochul and the MTA's support this year and is slated to be part of the 2025-2029 capital plan.
The QueensLink isn't quite there, but it is listed as a project that the MTA said it will evaluate for possible inclusion in its next “20 Year Needs Assessment,” a document that guides the authority's strategy for system upkeep and expansion. QueensLink supporters also say that they want Adams and Hochul to fund the EIS in order to attach political accountability to the document.
QueensLink supporters also used the letter to say that a state spending $1 billion to widen the Van Wyck Expressway as a traffic solution for southern Queens can and should find the money to study something that could cut down on car trips in the region.
The cost of the project and the MTA's apparent lack of desire to restore service on the right of way aren’t the only things standing in the way of the QueensLink. A competing idea to turn the right of way into a High Line-esque park called the Queensway has the support of its own slice of Queens civil society, including oddly enough Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi who is a signatory on the QueeensLink letter.
Supporters of the train project say that it can be done in such a way that provides 33 acres of park and public transportation, and also say that an EIS would be an opportunity to tackle some of the thorny questions around how to provide train service through built up neighborhoods.
"The EIS will have a community engagement component which is especially important given that there are homes so close to the line. There are a lot of ways we can minimize the impact on the surrounding communities and it will be important to work with them so they feel listened to," said Lynch.
The letter signees come from across the entire geography that a fully built out QueensLink would touch, from Rockaway peninsula to central Queens, including Selvena Brooks-Powers, who chairs the City Council's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
"Transportation equity is a major issue in our city that must be confronted," she said. "A comprehensive EIS for QueensLink will provide the information needed to achieve transit equity and be sensitive to the quality of life concerns of our neighbors along the right-of-way."
The offices of Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams did not respond to a request for comment.
The full list of letter signatories is:
- Rep. Gregory Meeks
- State Senator James Sanders Jr.
- State Senator Jessica Ramos
- State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr.
- Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato
- Assembly Member David Weprin
- Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi
- Assembly Member Khaleel Anderson
- Assembly Member Jennifer Gonzalez-Rojas
- Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar
- Queens Borough President Donovan Richards
- City Council Member Nantasha Williams
- City Council Member Bob Holden
- City Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers
- City Council Member Joann Ariola
- Community Board 6 Chair Heather Dimitriadis
- Community Board 14 Chair Delores Orr
Dave Colon is a reporter from Long Beach, a barrier island off of the coast of Long Island that you can bike to from the city. It’s a real nice ride. He’s previously been the editor of Brokelyn, a reporter at Gothamist, a freelance reporter and delivered freshly baked bread by bike. Dave is on Twitter as @davecolon. Email Dave Colon at firstname.lastname@example.org
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