Proponents Putting Pedal To The Metal
Proponents of restoring rail service to the long-defunct Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Rockaway Beach branch trumpeted their plan to the Community Board 5 Transportation and Public Transit committees during the panel’s meeting last Tuesday, Aug. 26.
Phil McManus and John Rozankowski of the Queens Public Transit Committee thanked the board for its prior support of reactivating the 3.2- mile rail line between Rego Park and Ozone Park, which was taken out of the LIRR system in 1962. Over the last 50 years, the line became naturally reforested, and parks groups are looking to convert it into a combined nature trail and bike path known as the QueensWay.
According to Rozankowski, bringing back rail service in some capacity-either as part of the LIRR system or linked to the New York City subway system- is “the absolute solution” to traffic congestion on north-tosouth arterial roads in Queens such as Cross Bay and Woodhaven boulevards. He argued it would improve commute times for residents in southern Queens and the Rockaways traveling either to other parts of the borough or Manhattan.
Rozankowski also believes restoring train service would prove an economic boon for Queens, as it would attract new businesses away fromManhattan and other parts of the city that presently have greater public transportation availability.
“Businesses struggling to meet Manhattan rents would move here if they had better access, and that’s what this line would do,” he stated. The activist also noted it would particularly open up business development opportunities across the Rockaway Peninsula.
Only theAline connects riders in the Rockaways directly to Manhattan, and since the line travels through Brooklyn, a typical daily commute between the peninsula and Manhattan takes over one hour each way.
Board 5 committee members suggested that the Queens Public Transit Committee begin weighing its options for reactivating rail service on the defunct line. Vincent Arcuri, Board 5 chairperson and Transportation Committee cochair, suggested the group reach out to engineers to analyze the possibilities for eventual presentation to the MTA and the public.
One such option discussed last Tuesday would be having rail service run to 63rd Drive in Rego Park. Rozankowski suggested an intermodal transportation hub could be created there connecting riders to possible limited bus routes serving eastern and northern Queens, including Queens College and Citi Field.
Another option considered would be connecting the rail line to the Queens Boulevard subway line in Rego Park and possibly rerouting the R line. Rozankowski argued, however, such a proposal would prove expensive and generate opposition from Rego Park residents, as it would require building a subway tunnel through a residential neighborhood.
Arcuri and Ted Renz, co-chair of Board 5’s Public Transit Committee, suggested that the Rockaway Beach line presents a golden opportunity to introduce light rail service in New York City. Committee members noted light rail construction, which has grown in other cities across the country, is a less expensive and more expeditious option for expanding mass transit.
“It’s lighter, quieter and quick to build,” Renz said. “It’s being built all over the country.”
Arcuri observed the committee should explore with engineers whether it is possible for light rail to run on standard New York City subway lines to gauge whether a light rail line could share tracks with the A route, which runs on the former Rockaway Beach branch south of Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park.
McManus stated his committee has yet to take a stance on a specific rail option for the Rockaway Beach branch, noting the group is presently more concerned about garnering public support for its side before deciding on the transit mode it prefers.
“Our goal, so far, is to organize people and get support for” revitalizing public transit on the Rockaway Beach line, he noted.
Rozankowski added the Queens Public Transit Committee is looking to build a boroughwide transit plan centered around revitalizing the Rockaway Beach branch, and invited Board 5 committee members to share their ideas. Arcuri suggested reintroducing LIRR passenger service on the Montauk branch extension west of Jamaica, which is now exclusively leased to New York and Atlantic Railway for freight operations.
The ongoing East SideAccess project, which would connect the LIRR to Grand Central Station, presents an opportunity to link the Montauk Branch-which terminates at Hunterspoint Avenue in Long Island City-to Manhattan, Arcuri noted.
But that plan may not happen, he warned, if the city Department of Transportation moves forward with its revised plan to renovate the bridge carrying Metropolitan Avenue and Fresh Pond Road over the Montauk Branch on the Ridgewood/Middle Village border.
Capital project updates
Turning to that project, Arcuri stated the city DOT indicated it would seek to shorten the bridge’s length by acquiring three rail sitings and filling them in with a concrete abutment, leaving just two active rail tracks. Though the DOT concluded the method is the cheapest alternative, he claimed it would effectively end any chance of restoring passenger service on the Montauk line.
“In the future, we’d never be able to get passenger service back,” he said.
The long-delayed bridge reconstruction process is currently in the preliminary design phase, according to Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano. Work may begin on or about 2016.
Meanwhile, Giordano stated, the LIRR installed roadwaygrade concrete on the bridge’s southern side along Metropolitan Avenue, the former site of a dilapidated newsstand demolished earlier this year. Committee members questioned the purpose of the installation and how it was funded; the LIRR reportedly told Giordano the work was paid for through money secured by City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.
Giordano and Arcuri updated the committee on other capital projects in the Board 5 area:
– Con Edison is in the process of relocating lines below 69th Street and Calamus Avenue in advance of the Department of Environmental Protection’s sewer replacement project, scheduled to begin in the near future.
– Demolition of acquired properties near the Kosciuszko Bridge in preparation of the span’s reconstruction project is slated to begin in September, Giordano said. Arcuri stated, however, the state has yet to finalize contracts with the private firms its selected.
– Since the city continues to delay a project to reconstruct roads in southern Middle Village, Transportation Committee Co- Chair John Schell suggested the board request that the DOT resurface those streets in the worst shape. Some of the roads, he noted, have not been resurfaced in nearly 20 years.
The DOT plans to commence the southern Middle Village project-delayed repeatedly over the past two decades for financial reasons and other difficulties-to 2024.
Traffic safety requests
The committees agreed to ask the DOT to install the following requested traffic safety measures in Glendale:
– an all-way stop sign at the corner of 68th Place and 70th Avenue;
– a “no truck traffic” sign at the corner of Central Avenue and 67th Street in Glendale; and
– an all-way stop sign at the corner of 77th Avenue and 81st Street, below the 80th Street overpass.
Additionally, the committees recommended approval of a DOT request to install speed bumps along 65th Place between 52nd Avenue and 53rd Drive in Maspeth.
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The next Community Board 5 Transportation and Public Transit Committees meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, Sept. 23, at the board’s Glendale office, located at 61-23 Myrtle Ave. For more information, call 1-718-366- 1834.