Plans to develop the right of way of the old Rockaway Beach Long Island Rail Road line are moving forward in all directions.
While the urban parks advocacy group The Trust for Public Land conducts its feasibility study for the proposal to build a High Line-type park on the old rail line between Rego Park and Ozone Park, Queens College is now joining in, planning a study next year on both that plan and a competing one to reactivate train service between Rego Park and the Rockaway Peninsula.
The rail line is championed by two South Queens congressmen, Reps. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens), and most prominently by Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), who joined Queens College President James Musykens and the college’s Department of Urban Studies Chairman Leonard Rodberg at a press conference to announce the study on Monday.
The project will be led by Rodberg and Scott Larson, a faculty member in the Department of Urban Studies, who will teach a class focused on the project to about a dozen students, a mix of undergraduates and graduates, in the spring before they hit the streets as research assistants next summer.
The focus of the study will be on assessing community transportation patterns and needs as well as people’s attitudes about the impact, costs, needs and feasibility of the rail and as well as the QueensWay proposal, which will also be included in the project.
“We believe our study will help everyone evaluate what is best for the people and communities of Queens,” Rodberg said.
He said the plan is to have the report completed by the end of the summer.
“This study will not be the final study needed,” Rodberg said, “but we will look at all the options and look at them objectively.”
The study won’t go into detail on the cost of building either a park or rail line or, if the latter, whether it should be a light rail, part of the LIRR or part of the subway system.
“We will consult with experts on the transportation alternative, but we will not be able to get a cost analysis,” Rodberg said. “The whole idea here is to expose all the possible options.”
Goldfeder added that if the study leads to future ones looking to those aspects, other schools in the City University of New York system can step in and help out.
There is no price tag on the study as of yet, Rodberg said, because the department’s budget for next year needs to be finalized, but Goldfeder said he would request $50,000 to $100,000 in capital funds to put toward the study. Rodberg added that most of the money will come from grant funds the school has.
“As the study progresses and the needs change, I will soon be in Albany to do more if necessary,” Goldfeder said.
The announcement comes after the MTA put the rail proposal on its 20-year outlook plan, signaling that it would be open to reactivation if it is feasible.
“The fact that it wasn’t there last year and it’s there now indicates the MTA is looking at long-term plans,” Goldfeder said. “And this is a long-term plan.”
The ongoing debate over the future of the rail line, which has been abandoned since 1962, grew hot this year after Gov. Cuomo allocated $467,000 toward a study of the QueensWay proposal last winter, while at the same time Reps. Jeffries and Meeks threw their support behind the rail line.
Supporters of the rail line argue a train would drastically cut commutes from the Rockaways and South Queens and would help the communities hit hard by Hurricane Sandy last year. QueensWay supporters meanwhile argue a train is too ambitious and costly, and parkland — which some communities in South Queens like Ozone Park are in need of — would be a better use for the line.
Some residents who live abutting the line in Woodhaven, Richmond Hill, Forest Park and Rego Park want the right of way to be left alone, fearing a park or train would negatively impact their quality of life.