By Jonathan Sperling
Queens is one stop closer to being connected to its northern and southern neighbors, though there’s a long road ahead before the multi-billion dollar proposal becomes a reality.
A dormant plan to connect Queens with the Bronx and Brooklyn via an above-ground passenger rail system has generated new attention after a Brooklyn lawmaker introduced a bill to study the proposal before the end of the legislative session last month.
The Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy organization, first introduced the plan to build a 24-mile train route spanning from Co-op City in the Bronx to Bay Ridge via Queens in 1996. However, it wasn’t until last month that Assemblymember Latrice Walker introduced a bill directing the MTA to study the feasibility of “co-mingling public transit and freight service.”
Queens councilmembers said their districts would potentially benefit from the rail line, which mostly relies on already existing and “underused” rail infrastructure. They told the Eagle that they were interested in the proposed route because of its ability to connect Queens to Brooklyn and the Bronx. And it would cost a fraction of the so-called Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX, a proposed trolley line along roads near the Western shorelines of Queens and Brooklyn.
“Western Queens is long overdue for a holistic, multimodal transit network so residents can more easily travel within the borough and beyond,” Councilmember Costa Constantinides told the Eagle. “As we move away from a Manhattan-centric transit system, we must figure out how we connect western Queens better with its neighboring boroughs.”
Constantinides’s 22nd Council District includes the proposed Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard station on the Triboro. Riders using that station would be just one stop from Randall’s Island, two stops from Hunts Point in the Bronx, and seven stops from Brooklyn’s Bushwick on the Triboro line. Connection to the N and W trains would also be available.
There is currently no rail line linking the outer boroughs for Astoria residents, who, like the majority of Queens, rely on a Manhattan-centric transit system, Constantinides said.
“I am intrigued by The Triboro proposal, and, like any project, there are logistical questions that need to be worked out, but we have to start having these conversations,” he added.
As commuters travel south down on Triboro, the need for better transit connectivity becomes more apparent. The proposal also places stations at 79th Street and Grand Avenue in Elmhurst, Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, and near Myrtle Avenue and Fresh Pond Road along the Ridgewood/Glendale border.
District 30 Councilmember Robert Holden told the Eagle that these stations could be the answer to “worsening traffic” and a lack of transit connections in the area.
“This proposal is the best way to bring another transit option to the transportation desert in Queens and provide valuable connections across multiple boroughs,” Holden told the Eagle. “While I would suggest adding a spur to La Guardia Airport, I otherwise support this proposal wholeheartedly.”
Holden met with the RPA last year to discuss the Triboro and invited the organization to present the plan to the Queens Delegation, who supported the concept.
Ridgewood Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, a member of the Council’s Committee on Transportation called the city’s public transportation system “inadequate” and said he would support the Triboro, in a statement to the Eagle.
“As the City and State work to fix our broken subway and bus networks, we can and should invest in new forms of mass public transportation,” Reynoso said.
“In addition to inconveniencing commuters, insufficient transportation can act as a barrier to economic opportunities and increases residents’ reliance on cars, undermining our City’s sustainability goals,” he added. “The Triboro could help fill in the gaps in City’s public transportation network and deliver a sorely needed transportation option to Queens residents.”
Because of the existing freight line track, RPA estimates it can keep costs at $1 billion to $2 billion for the entire line, a relative bargain in the realm of New York City public transit.
In contrast, East Side Access, the plan to give 160,000 Long Island Rail Road customers the ability to take the train to Grand Central Station, is estimated to cost between $10 to $11 billion. The completed first phase of Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway, which utilized some existing infrastructure to open four new stations along the Q line in 2017, cost around $4.5 billion.
The BQX is estimated to cost $2.73 billion.
Growing populations, changing employment hubs and the locations of hospitals and schools were also taken into account when deciding on potential stations, said Kate Slevin, senior vice president of state programs and advocacy at RPA.
Slevin said the project would not require tunneling along most of the route, though tracks would have to be upgraded in spots.
“A lot of the basic infrastructure and right of way is already there. It’s very hard to build new transit lines in New York. There’s not a lot of space,” Slevin told the Eagle.