If you pay for it, they may just build it.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 20-year Capital Assessment released last week includes a nod to the proposal for reactivating the Rockaway Beach Long Island Rail Road line.
The line is only mentioned once in the 150-page plan as a right of way that could potentially be used for transit.
Beyond that, there are no specifics about any potential plan, which would reconstruct the rail route that begins at the LIRR’s Main Line in Rego Park and runs parallel to Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards through Forest Hills, Glendale, Woodhaven, Ozone Park and Howard Beach to the Rockaways. The document only mentions neighborhoods along the line between the Rockaway Peninsula and Woodhaven and doesn’t make any reference to whether it would be a LIRR line or a subway route, or even go all the way to Rego Park.
The line is mentioned in the assessment along with the freight-only Long Island Rail Road spur to Bay Ridge, which cuts through Central Brooklyn and comes into Queens at Ridgewood, then runs through Middle Village, Maspeth and Woodside before meeting the Northeast Corridor Amtrak line in Astoria. There have been proposals by transportation advocates to utilize that right of way as an interborough subway line.
In the assessment, the MTA says, “A possible option is the utilization of abandoned or underutilized rights of way such as the LIRR Bay Ridge Branch (linking southern and eastern Brooklyn with Central and northern Queens) or the abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch (linking Howard Beach and Ozone Park with Woodhaven) as transverse routes linking radial subway lines. Conversion of existing ROWs, where a solution to an identified travel need can be defined, could help reduce land acquisition and construction costs, and facilitate construction time in densely developed areas.”
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan acknowledged the agency’s inclusion of the right of way in its assessment plan, but said there are no immediate plans for exploring restoring train service.
In March, the proposal got the support of two South Queens federal representatives, Reps. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens). The duo announced they would pledge federal funds toward studying restoration of service.
Reactivation of the rail line is one of two plans being explored for the right of way. Another proposal, the QueensWay, would turn the right of way into a park similar to Manhattan’s High Line. That proposal got $467,000 in state funding for a feasibility study done by The Trust for Public Land, a group that advocates for and builds urban parks, late last year. That study kicked off in August.
Rail restoration advocates cheered the MTA news as a sign the plan, previous seen as unfeasible, now has a better chance of coming to fruition.
“This report is a huge step forward and I will continue to work closely with my colleagues, Gov. Cuomo and the MTA, until the Rockaway Beach Rail Line becomes a reality,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park). “The MTA has heard our calls for smart investment in existing rights of way to improve transit infrastructure, create jobs, while helping each family in Queens and across the city in their daily commutes.”
Phil McManus, a Rockaway resident and founder of the advocacy group Queens Public Transit Committee, said the rail line would be beneficial not only to the Rockaways, but also the entire borough because it would connect southern Queens residents to transfer points in areas such as Astoria, Flushing and Bayside.
“We’re very excited that the MTA would support any reactivating of the old line,” he said. “The quality of life in Queens would be so much better if you can get across the borough easier.”
No trains have run along the Rockaway Beach corridor since 1962, but supporters of reactivation, mainly from southern Queens and the Rockaways, say it’s an opportunity to spur growth on the peninsula and in southern Queens.
The old line had stations at Glendale, Woodhaven and Ozone Park. The right of way south of Rockaway Boulevard is now used by the A subway, but the old LIRR tracks still exist as far south as Howard Beach between the subway rails.
Advocates for the QueensWay say the MTA’s mention of the line is not going to change the feasibility of the plan.
“Let’s be honest about what the study actually said,” Andrea Crawford, an advocate of QueensWay and former chairwoman of Community Board 9, said. “It doesn’t say reactivation. It merely mentions that the right of way exists. We all acknowledge it exists. The question is what is its best use and its most feasible use.”
Crawford also acknowledged the need for better transportation in southern Queens and suggested Rockaway could benefit better by fighting for permanent ferry service, better express service on the A line or select bus routes along Woodhaven Boulevard.
Residents in Woodhaven, Forest Hills and Rego Park, whose homes abut the right of way, have made clear their opposition to either a park or rail reactivation.
Neil Gianelli, a Woodhaven resident who heads a group called No Way QueensWay, is among those who opposesboth plans.
Gianelli lives on 98th Street, and his backyard abuts the old line. He has attended a number of Community Board 9 meetings to express his opposition to both a park and the rail restoration. Recently, Gianelli noted a 2003 study that claims property values of homes and businesses within 200 feet of a bike path in Portland, Ore. plummeted 6 percent after its construction and said a similar issue could befall him and his neighbors if QueensWay, or a rail line, is built.
McManus also acknowledges public opposition to the plan would have those effects on residents on the northern end of the line, but said that has to be weighed with the potential positive aspects.
“You do everything you can to mitigate that,” he said. “But you have to balance that with opening access.”