The idea to build a Queens version of Manhattan’s High Line Park got a push forward this week, thanks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
The Trust for Public Land received $467,000 in Environmental Protection Fund municipal grants from the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to further explore the viability of turning the abandoned rail line, which runs from Rego Park to Ozone Park, into parkland.
The tracks, which were abandoned in 1962, have been the subject of dueling efforts for reopening as a rail line or a park. Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway) and Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) led the effort to run trains along the line once again. They say the line would provide quicker service from South Queens and the Rockaways to Midtown Manhattan as it would connect to the Long Island Rail Road’s main line at Rego Park.
The effort to turn the 3.5-mile-long right-of-way into a park similar to the High Line on the West Side has been spearheaded by a number of parks advocates’ groups and Community Board 9 chairwoman Andrea Crawford.
In that concept, people would be able to walk along the line, which would connect neighborhoods like Ozone Park and Forest Hills with Forest Park to paths near Jamaica Bay.
“The location creates the potential for the Queensway to link to the existing Jamaica Bay Greenway,” The Trust for Public Land said on its website.
Marc Matsil, New York State director for The Trust for Public Land, said the group expects to sign the contract with the state to receive the $467,000 in mid-January and after that move forward with the first stage.
“We hope to do a request for proposals for the feasibility study and get underway with the study piece and then start the planning for the community outreach,” he said.
The feasibility study, which Matsil said would take about a year, will look at the groundwater and soil situation along the line as well as the condition of the infrastructure, especially along the section south of Forest Park.
The line runs along an embankment north of Forest Park, along the surface in the park and along an elevated concrete structure through most of the right-of-way in Woodhaven and Ozone Park, and the cost to make it safe for pedestrians will be calculated during the study period.
Multiple sources have suggested that supporters of the Queensway may try to lure Major League Soccer into the project, perhaps using the Queensway as mitigated parkland to replace that lost in Flushing Meadows Corona Park if a soccer stadium is built there as proposed. Supporters of bringing transit back to the rail line, such as Goldfeder, have said that they would not oppose a Queensway project providing transit is also explored along with parkland. The line south of Forest Park is wide — four tracks once ran along it — and could possibly fit both pedestrian paths and train tracks.
A project that includes both would not be unprecedented. A pedestrian and bike path is being proposed along a rail line currently under construction between Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Calif.
Matsil said the community input process will be “most vital,” and the group will solicit suggestions from residents as to where entrances and exits to the park would be built and where restaurants and shops would be located. He said the organization would also talk to the arts community about design and works of art to be displayed along the viaduct.
But the group may meet a tougher crowd than it expects when it meets the public.
Both the railroad and the park have been opposed by a number of residents and communities along the line, especially in Forest Hills, Rego Park and Woodhaven.
In October, the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association came out against both plans after a meeting on Sept. 29, in which a number of residents who live on 96th Street, whose backyards face the abandoned line, expressed their opposition, with some even threatening to move.
“We cannot endorse a plan that would impose such high costs on so many of our fellow Woodhaven residents, and which has engendered so much opposition from our community,” the WRBA said in a statement after the meeting.