By Larry Penner
The defeat of Queens NYC Council member Elizabeth Crowley may also signal the end of the line for her proposed Long Island Rail Road Lower Montauk branch Light Rail Project.
Crowley was the chief advocate for this project. Her successor, newly elected Bob Holden, is not a supporter of the project. The ongoing $500,000 feasibility study for introduction of light rail may be the last stop for this project.
Even with a planning feasibility study, millions more would have been needed to pay for environmental documents along with preliminary design and engineering followed by final design and engineering efforts necessary to validate any basic estimates for construction costs. Crowley’s previously stated belief that it would be under $100 million never added up. New Jersey Transit’s Hudson Bergen Light Rail cost $1.2 billion and Newark Elizabeth Light Rail cost $694 million 16 years ago. Clearly costs would be far greater in today’s dollars.
There are no dollars programmed to support any work for advancement of this project contained with the approved MTA’s $32 billion Five Year 2015-2019 Five Year Capital Plan. Ditto for the MTA 2014-2034 Twenty Year Capital Needs Assessment Plan. There is also no money in the 2017 – 2018 municipal budget to do the same.
The proposed route would traverse several neighborhoods impacting thousands of people living nearby. How will they react to potential noise and visual impacts?
There are serious legal and operational issues to be resolved with the Federal Rail Road Administration. They have regulatory jurisdiction over significant portions of the proposed route which would run on existing active freight tracks. You have to deal with light rail and freight trains coexisting on the same narrow corridor.
There is no available project budget to justify key project component costs. They would have to cover a series of new stations. These would have to meet the Americans Disability Act access standards; grade crossing, signal and safety improvements, a fleet of new light rail vehicles, land acquisition, potential business relocation along with construction of a new maintenance, operations and storage yard to support any light rail car fleet.
Which neighborhood will want to step forward and host the maintenance, operations and storage yard? Other Queens elected officials, transit riders and transit advocacy groups all have their own transportation priority projects which may conflict with this proposal.
The MTA NYC Transit in 1983 conducted the Queens Subway Options feasibility study for potential conversation of this LIRR branch to a subway on the ground. Intense vocal local community opposition killed this project before it progressed beyond a planning study. The same community opposition had already begun for introduction of any active light rail as well.
You would have to wait for approval of MTA’s next Five Year 2020 – 2024 Capital Program for any chance of MTA funding. The alternative would be 100 percent New York City funding which is very doubtful.
Since no one is left to champion or deliver several hundred million dollars to build a Light Rail system, which could take a decade or more, why not ask the LIRR to resume service on this corridor? They could run a two-car scoot service reconnecting Long Island City, Glendale and Middle Village with other communities including Richmond Hill and other intermediate stops to Jamaica.
The LIRR could use existing equipment which would afford far early implementation of service versus Light Rail. This would provide connections east bound to the J/Z and E subway lines, Kennedy Airport via Train to Plane and Jamaica LIRR Station. Queens residents traveling to jobs and colleges in Nassau and Suffolk counties would have access to all LIRR branches except the Port Washington line. Ditto for those traveling to the Barclay Center and downtown Brooklyn via the LIRR Atlantic Avenue branch.
There would also be connections west bound at either Hunters Point or Long Island City LIRR stations to the No. 7 subway line.