City Comptroller Scott Stringer is asking the MTA to fess up about putting off long overdue LIRR station improvements, even while the agency careens toward a serious deficit with other major improvement projects underway.
Not only did Stringer issue a letter demanding an explanation why stations are behind on modernizations, he also looked for answers as to why the railroad scrapped multimillion-dollar plans for new stations in Sunnyside and Elmhurst.
For residents outside the reaches of the subway, Stringer said LIRR service should not only be a viable option but an affordable one with reduced fares for travel within the city.
“Instead, far too many are underutilized, inaccessible, deteriorating and locked behind an exorbitant pay wall,” Stringer said. “This issue isn’t just about basic maintenance – it’s an issue of fairness. Behind every motionless elevator or deteriorating station there are New Yorkers who can’t travel.”
The $3 million St. Albans station renewal will not include elevators, according to Stringer, to which the MTA said they have an ADA Task Force that deliberates on how inaccessible stations can be remedied.
“The Long Island Rail Road is committed to improving accessibility and station conditions not just in Brooklyn and Queens but throughout the entire system,” MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said. “Details about the next capital program for the maintenance, repair and upgrade of LIRR infrastructure will be available in the coming months and the current historic reorganization of the MTA and its agencies will focus resources on customer-facing improvements more than ever before.”
The MTA also rebutted that the Hunterspoint Station has received stairwell upgrades with safety features.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney attempted to urge a a response from the MTA in February regarding the Sunnyside station, claiming there were matching federal funds available for the build, but if the agency failed to put the station in motion, that money disappears.
The LIRR’s response to Maloney and other civic leaders from western Queens was that before any investment in the Sunnyside station can be made, East Side Access must be completed. This $11 billion project with funding from both the most recent MTA five-year capital plan and federal funds will link LIRR service from Queens to Grand Central Terminal through new East River tunnels. But the project is still in the offing with a 2022 completion date.
But there is still the question of whether or not the city and the Economic Development Corporation will build over the top of Sunnyside Yards, possibly disrupting any plans for a station.
“As NYCEDC and Amtrak develop a Master Plan for a potential overbuild of Sunnyside Yards, the MTA is working with them to ensure that options for a station can be pursued without compromising future LIRR service or operations,” a LIRR spokesman told QNS in February in response to Maloney’s remarks.
The Elmhurst station was also removed from the five-year capital plan, as the LIRR cited a need to completion of Main Line Double Track Phase 2, part of a $2.6 billion project to increase service on a 9.8-mile corridor between Floral Park and Hicksville.