Group gets grant to study Rockaway line land

Photo by Joe Anuta
By Steve Mosco

A group hoping to transform a long-dormant rail line into a public greenway will try to get science on their side after receiving a state grant to conduct a feasibility study.

The Trust for Public Land, a land conservancy group, received the $467,000 grant from Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week and will work with Friends of the QueensWay, a group of neighborhood advocates, to assess the structure and analyze environmental conditions, including trestles, bridges and embankments.

“The Trust for Public Land is elated by Gov. Cuomo’s announcement that we have been awarded an Environmental Protection Fund grant through the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to conduct a feasibility study,” said Marc Matsil, the trust’s state director. “Over the next year, we will conduct environmental and engineering analyses, as well as a community visioning that will determine ultimate costs to turn a blighted rail line into an uninterrupted bike and walking path. The project would help to catalyze economic development and celebrate the immense cultural diversity of Queens.”

While transportation advocates want to revive the railway and give southern Queens easier access to the city, Friends of the QueensWay hopes to transform the tracks into an outdoor park similar to the High Line, an elevated park in Manhattan.

The Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road has been inactive since 1962, when it was shut down due to lack of ridership. Since its closure, there have been many attempts to revive the line, but reactivation routinely proved infeasible for a variety of reasons, including cost, environmental impact and detrimental effects on residents.

The rail line runs through Forest Hills, Glendale, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park.

Following a special forum in Woodhaven in October at which QueensWay and transportation advocates presented opposing plans for the abandoned line, the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association said it would not support either proposal.

“In light of the diverse and sometimes conflicting opinions we’ve received from our community, we believe that leaving the abandoned rail line alone is the best way to satisfy the needs and desires of as many residents as possible,” said Ed Wendell, president of the WRBA, in October.

But Andrea Crawford, chairwoman of Community Board 9, said there is a dearth of public space in the area — other than Forest Park, which she said can be difficult to access.

“Community Board 9 has supported the idea of turning the abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch of the LIRR into a greenway since at least 2007,” she said. “Queens, as a whole, has a paucity of open public land to service its diverse and growing communities. Once the QueensWay is underway, it will help link all of the wonderful neighborhoods that run along the QueensWay.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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