Monday, April 4, 2016

Goldfeder: Queens Rail Study Full Steam Ahead

MTA agrees to conduct feasibility study of Rockaway Beach Rail Line reactivation,recognizes "opportunities" in unused right-of-way

Major victory comes amid round-the-clock negotiations over just-passed state budget

Ozone Park, Queens - It's all aboard for a long-sought MTA study of an abandoned commuter rail line in Queens. This week, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D - Ozone Park) announced that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has agreed to conduct a feasibility study into reactivating the Queens Rail, also known as the Rockaway Beach Rail Line. The major victory for Assemblyman Goldfeder, who has fought years to secure the study, came out of round-the-clock negotiations over the just-passed state budget. 

"For tens of thousands of Queens families forced to endure some of the longest commutes in the city, this announcement by the MTA is real progress. A comprehensive study of the Queens Rail will give voice to our transit concerns and bring Queens one step closer to having the transportation infrastructure we need and deserve," said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder. "I have no doubt that this study will prove once and for all that reactivation is the best and most cost-effective way to speed commute times for our families and boost our local economy. I applaud Chairman Prendergast and the MTA for their foresight in recognizing the value of this old right-of-way, and I look forward to working with them as they complete this study."

MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast broke the news of his agency's support for the study in a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie late last week. According to the letter, the MTA recognizes the opportunity presented by the old rail spur, which until 1962 served Long Island Railroad commuters between Rockaway, Ozone Park and Rego Park in central Queens. Prendergast writes that the MTA commits to completing an evaluation of the line, which it says will include an assessment of transportation options and issues identified with reactivation. The study of the Queens line will be submitted to the Speaker by no later than June 30, 2017, the letter states. 

News of the MTA's decision came in the final hours of often tense negotiations over the state budget. Goldfeder scored an early coup in this process when the Assembly agreed to include funding for a feasibility study in the Assembly's one-house budget proposal. Language in the budget proposal text justified the appropriation on the grounds that "constructing new mass transit routes and services reduces vehicle traffic and alleviates congestion." 

This led to last week's decision by the MTA to agree to the study, a move the Assemblyman had forcefully advocated for in recent years. Last year, the Assemblyman secured the signatures of the majority of the Queens Assembly delegation in a letter to Speaker Heastie and Governor Andrew Cuomo urging for the feasibility study. Goldfeder continued to make the case for the reactivation of the line in joint testimony last November with Congressmen Jerrold Nadler (NY - 10), member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, before a City Council Transportation Committee hearing on transit deserts in New York. 

The proposed MTA study would build upon previous efforts to review the line and transit issues in surrounding communities. In 2014, the Queens College Urban Studies Department conducted a student-led survey of communities adjacent to the abandoned right-of-way. The resulting report found that reactivation could generate half a million subway trips a day and that a majority of local business owners supported the plan. Around this time, a report by the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation ranked many communities in the Assemblyman's district among the lowest city-wide for access to job opportunities via public transportation. 

Pointing to the findings of 2014 MTA report, which recognized the value of utilizing unused rail rights-of-way to increase transit options in the city, the Queens Assemblyman contends that it's only a matter of time now before the long-dormant, but still intact, rail line is reactivated. 

"You better get off the tracks because a train is a-comin’ through," concluded Goldfeder. "The right-of-way exists, the tracks exist, and the infrastructure still exists. It's about time we reactivate the Rockaway Beach Rail Line and bring real improvements to the transit network our families depend on."

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