SBS advocates worry over project delays

By Gabriel Rom

Queens transportation advocates are growing frustrated with what they say are costly delays in implementing Select Bus Service along Woodhaven Boulevard.

According to a city Department of Transportation presentation given in December, the project would arrive in phases: a short-term SBS program will be implemented in early 2017 along the Q52 and Q53 bus routes before a full capital build-out, which does not yet have a completion date.

“The DOT has been studying Woodhaven for the better part of five years and given how dangerous Woodhaven is, waiting many more months is not encouraging to me,” said Toby Sheppard Bloch, a member of Community Board 5 and Riders Alliance.

The short-term project will bring the SBS program along Woodhaven Boulevard from Park Lane South to Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue.

The phased initiative will include street resurfacing, roadway and pedestrian safety improvements, bus lanes and transit-signal priority, and the installation of median bus stops along the 1.3-mile corridor.

But as time goes on, Bloch worries that administrative changes at the federal level could jeopardize the funding for SBS.

“DOT has repeatedly told the community that the U.S. Department of Transportation was inclined favorably to funding the project and money had been set aside but not guaranteed,” he said. “So it’s not clear to me if that money will still be there in a few years.”

A city DOT spokesman said Phase 1 of the Woodhaven SBS project will be funded with a combination of local and federal grant money. For Phase 2 of the project, the DOT will likely apply for a Federal Transit Administration New Starts program grant, and use local funding as well. The New Starts program gives out federal resources for local transit capital investments. The full SBS price tag is estimated to be in the $200 million range.

At a contentious town hall meeting in December, Queens DOT Commissioner Nicole Garcia told Woodhaven civic leaders that her agency thought it was important to “take time and have some more conversations” during 2016, with the final design to be proposed late in the year. Implementation would begin in 2017.

In the face of stubborn public opposition, the MTA and its supporters contended that the SBS route would provide more reliable service for 30,000 daily riders, with an anticipated travel time savings of 25 percent to 35 percent. They also said it would especially benefit low-income citizens along the Woodhaven corridor, who have been plagued with slow buses for years.

SBS, which will support Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero and OneNYC programs, has been presented by advocates as a comprehensive program that will help not only bus riders but drivers, pedestrians and all street users.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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