The Long Island Rail Road’s “summer of hell” may have given commuters in eastern Queens a glimpse at what might be a new transportation heaven: Belmont Park.
Now some Queens lawmakers and their counterparts in Nassau County want the MTA to use Belmont Park as a permanent park-and-ride facility, either with train service or through express buses.
The racetrack on the Queens/Nassau border was pressed into service in July after the LIRR cut back daily service while Amtrak made crucial repairs at beleaguered Penn Station. Belmont Park’s expansive parking lots were used as a temporary park-and-ride for commuters to hop on board free shuttle buses connecting them to LIRR and subway stations in Queens and Brooklyn. The Belmont Park LIRR station, which is open on race days at the track and was renovated prior to the 2015 racing season, and its connecting rail line were not used during the period.
With Amtrak’s repairs scheduled to end by Labor Day, LIRR service will be restored to normal on Sept. 5, bringing the Belmont Park shuttle bus service and other contingency measures to an end. Belmont Park reopens on Sept. 8 for its fall racing season, and race-day train service to the track will also be restored.
“We have a shortage of mass transit options in Eastern Queens and Western Nassau. There is no subway service and limited railroad service; buses are our only form of mass transit. Commuters could park at Belmont and take a direct ride to Manhattan,” said Councilman Barry S. Grodenchik.
“Our city has a great opportunity to expand access and opportunity for the residents of Eastern Queens and Western Nassau,” added Congressman Gregory Meeks. “The establishment of permanent bus or railroad service at Belmont Park would serve as an essential transit hub for communities that have historically been ignored by public transportation programs.”
Also supporting a permanent transit hub at Belmont Park were state Senator Leroy Comrie and Assembly members Michaelle C. Solages, Clyde Vanel and David Weprin.
Many questions surround the future of the 450-acre Belmont Park property. Much of it — including the grandstand, clubhouse, stables, training facilities and the 1 1/2-mile racing oval— will remain in place for thoroughbred racing. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) is in the middle of a 25-year lease of the site, and according to published reports, the racing outfit is looking to modernize the entire facility with a massive renovation.
Last month, Empire State Development announced a request for proposals to redevelop two small parking lots serving Belmont Park and located adjacent to the Cross Island Parkway. The New York Cosmos previously eyed one of the lots to build a new soccer stadium, but ultimately withdrew their bid. Now, the New York Islanders are reportedly considering Belmont Park as a place to build a new hockey arena after leaving the Nassau Coliseum for the Barclays Center two years ago.