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Op-ed: Reactivate the Rockaway Beach Rail Line

BY ASSEMBLYMAN PHILLIP GOLDFEDER

We are currently at a crossroads in Queens.

In recent years, we’ve seen tremendous growth and progress. At same time, we’ve struggled together to recover from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy over two years ago. Now, as we continue forward, we have a real opportunity to make lasting changes that will speed our recovery, benefit our local businesses and improve our neighborhoods in the years to come. But, in order to make this a reality, we need to put in place the transportation infrastructure that will spur growth and connect us to the rest of the city. The best way to do this is to restore and reactivate the Rockaway Beach Rail Line.

The Rockaway Beach Rail Line ran from the Rockaway Peninsula to Rego Park, serving as the primary north-south rail connection through central Queens. Until it was sectioned off and closed in the early 1960s, the rail line provided residents of southern Queens and Rockaway with 40-minute commutes to midtown Manhattan. To this day, the right-of-way for the line is still owned by the city and is largely intact. This rail right-of-way is our single greatest unused transportation asset in the city. By reactivating the line, we would once again connect southern Queens to the heart of the borough and ease commutes for thousands of families.

I recently joined the Queens College Department of Urban Studies in releasing its comprehensive and objective study of the reactivation of the rail line. Unlike the taxpayer-funded study by out-of-borough consultants that looked into alternative uses for the right-of-way, this student-led study put the best young minds in Queens to work on this vital community issue. They found that, if reactivated, the Rockaway Beach Rail Line could generate up to half a million trips a day and cost less than $1 billion to reactivate. Their community survey of local residents and businesses also concluded that the rail line was supported by a broad cross-section of the community, with middle class families overwhelmingly in favor of reactivation, and was the best way to grow our local economy.

At the study release, we were joined by an unprecedented coalition of elected officials, union representatives and transit advocates who came out in support. Our coalition grows larger every day. Recently, even the MTA has supported the idea of reactivation. In a report released last week, the MTA’s Transportation Reinvention Commission has called for utilizing existing rail rights-of-way as an opportunity to quickly and cheaply increase transportation options in the city. This is a part of its proposed plan to “aggressively expand” our rail infrastructure to better connect growing neighborhoods, like southern Queens and Rockaway, that are not adequately served by existing transportation options. To help pay for this plan, I’m calling for Gov. Cuomo to use a portion of the state’s $5 billion surplus to reactivate the Rockaway Beach Rail Line.

I believe in reactivating the Rockaway Beach Rail Line because it is our best opportunity to provide southern Queens and Rockaway with the equal access to transit options that we need and deserve. I was born and raised in Rockaway and my wife and I are now raising our own children here. I want my children — and all of our children — to have the opportunity to make the most of their lives right here in Queens. So, we need to seize this opportunity now and reactivate the Rockaway Beach Rail Line so that all of our families can continue to succeed and grow.

Goldfeder represents the 23rd Assembly District including the Rockaways, Broad Channel, Ozone Park, Lindenwood and Howard Beach.

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