Curbed Feb 27, 2017
Are transit hubs the new malls? Several major nerve centers of U.S. transportation—like Union Station in Washington, D.C., and Penn Station in New York City—are planning major overhauls that would transform them from pass-through structures into glittering corridors of restaurants, retail, and event spaces. Meanwhile, expanding local rail systems around the country are also sparking the development of new transit hubs, trying to take advantage of built-in foot traffic to boost business and job markets.
“[Transit hubs are] a way to [achieve] balance and attract people during off hours and use the structures that exist, which are an attraction in themselves,” real estate attorney B.A. Spignardo of Shapiro Lifschitz & Schram in Washington, DC tells Construction Dive.
The Triboro rail line would run between Co-Op City in the Bronx and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, with seven stations proposed for Queens.
New transportation options are all the rage in Queens, as the proposed light rail line in Glendale and reactivating the Rockaway Beach Rail Line in central and South Queens have been popular talking points over the last few months and years.
So why not throw one more idea at the wall and see if it sticks?
The Regional Plan Association, the influential urban research think tank, has revived its long-discussed proposal to connect Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx with a commuter rail line called the Triboro, as the agency released an updated version of the plan in an eight-page report late last month.
According to the RPA, the Triboro would run 24 miles between Co-Op City in the Bronx and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, converting the freight-only rail right-of-way that connects the neighborhoods into a dual usage line that allows for commuter service.
In Queens — where the stretch of rail is owned by CSX from Astoria to the Fresh Pond Rail Yard and by the Long Island Rail Road from Glendale to Brooklyn — the train would run through Astoria, Jackson Heights, Woodside, Elmhurst, Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood before crossing the border.
The RPA has proposed seven stations in Queens, including:
• 23rd Avenue and 31st Street in Astoria, with an available transfer to the Astoria-Ditmars N and Q subway stop;
• Northern Boulevard and 64th Street in Woodside;
• Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, with an available transfer to the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue 7, E, F, M and R subway stop;
• Queens Boulevard between 73rd and 74th streets near where Elmhurst, Maspeth, and Woodside converge;
• Grand Avenue at Elmhurst Park;
• Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, with an available transfer to the Metropolitan Avenue M train subway stop; and
• Myrtle Avenue at Fresh Pond Road on the Glendale-Ridgewood border.
The RPA estimates a daily ridership of around 100,000 people and a cost between $1 and $2 billion to establish, with major capital investments being the creation of stations, signals and rail cars.
“Transit improvements are typically focused on moving people in and out of Manhattan,” the RPA said in its report. “Yet today, more New Yorkers commute within the outerboroughs than into Manhattan, and the city is gaining more jobs in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island than it is in the urban core.”
The agency added that commutes for residents traveling to and from work between the outer boroughs, which already average over an hour, according to the RPA, would be slashed significantly if and when the Triboro opens, as trains would run every five to 15 minutes.
“The Triboro would link employment hubs for manufacturing and industry in Hunts Point, northern Astoria, Maspeth and Bay Ridge,” the RPA wrote.
When the RPA originally proposed the plan in 1996 as a way to connect Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, some of the its designs had the Triboro terminating either at Yankee Stadium or Hunts Point in the Bronx instead of Co-Op City.
Those plans never gained traction with the city, as its focus has been on the Second Avenue Subway and other projects like the 7 Line Extension.
The RPA’s new proposal isn’t winning over Queens rail gurus, either.
Little Neck native Larry Penner, a transportation historian and retired U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration regional office director, said despite being a “great concept” in theory, the creation of the Triboro simply isn’t feasible in the near future.
“There are a ton of ideas for Queens, but there’s only so much transit money going around,” Penner said in a Monday phone interview. “This is a low priority.”
Penner also sharply criticized the RPA for its cost estimate, saying the $1-2 billion price tag is “fantasy.”
“In my professional opinion, it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build each station,” he said. “The RPA’s cost estimate is very naive. To build this new system, you’ll need rails, power, maintenance. It sounds like it would cost a heck of a lot more than what they’re saying it would.”
When it comes to possibly securing federal money to pay for at least a portion of the Triboro, Penner said neither the city nor the state would ever do so considering the MTA had already applied for a $500 million grant from the Federal Transit Adminstration’s New Starts program —which appropriates $2.3 billion each year — to help with the Second Avenue Subway project.
“The MTA doesn’t like to compete against itself,” he said. “In effect, they would be competing for grant money against themselves with the Second Avenue Subway and they’re not going to have this compete with the subway.”
Penner isn’t alone when it comes to Queens opposition to the Triboro.
Over the past few months, Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri Jr., a Glendale resident, has advocated strongly for both the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line — which closed over 50 years ago — and the creation of a light rail system connecting Glendale and Long Island City.
But when it comes to the Triboro, he isn’t impressed.
“l think this is overkill, without need or benefit,” Arcuri said in an email on Tuesday. “The real need in commuter rail is from the Rockaways to Manhattan and Jamaica to Manhattan, where the need and ridership is.”
An MTA spokesman said the agency had no comment on the plan when contacted by the Chronicle.
However, the representative said funding is in place to begin planning the extension of Metro-North Railroad service to the Bronx — with stations in Co-Op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point, areas that would be served by the Triboro — through to Penn Station.
That project is expected to begin after the East Side Access project — which will connect the Long Island Rail Road with Grand Central Terminal — is completed in 2023.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), who proposed a light rail line to connect Glendale and Long Island City last year, didn’t mention the proposed Triboro by name in a Wednesday statement, but said the city’s focus should be on addressing public transportation issues in so-called transit deserts like southwest Queens.
“It’s critical that this city invest in opportunities for efficient public transportation,” Crowley said. “Not only will it take cars off the road and ease severe commuting burdens, but in the long-term it will help our environment and create a better New York for the future.
“I believe that right now, at this moment,” she continued, “a light rail through transit-poor communities in Queens should be a priority so residents, the economy and New York City as a whole can flourish.”
Tunnels, highways, and rail lines cost billions no matter where you build them.
Facts and figures are based on an article in the BOSTON GLOBE.
The price tag for Boston’s Big Dig ballooned from $2.6 billion to nearly $15 billion. And it was eight years behind schedule by the time it was done. How does that compare with some other mega construction projects around the world?
Gotthard Base Tunnel, Switzerland
- Cost: $10 billion. At 35 miles, the tunnel in the Swiss Alps is the longest in the world. Scheduled to open in 2016.
Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle
- Cost: $3.1 billion. Earthquake-damaged highway to be replaced by a tunnel. Under construction.
D.C. Metro Silver Line extension
- Cost: $7 billion. New 23-mile rail line to Dulles International Airport. Under construction.
- Cost: $23 billion. New city rail lines, 13-mile tunnel. Under construction.
Second Avenue subway, New York City
- Cost: $4.4 billion. New 8.5-mile transit line in Manhattan. Under construction.
The Chunnel, English Channel
- Cost: $21 billion. A 31-mile rail tunnel connecting England and France. Completed in 1994.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week signed an executive order that gives New Jersey and Connecticut law enforcement jurisdiction on New York’s public transportation services and facilities.
The order is aimed at allowing security and counterterrorism officials in both states to assist New York in ensuring public safety at locations traditionally targeted by terrorists, according to a press release issued by Cuomo’s office.
“With the busy holiday season in full swing, we are taking every precaution necessary to mitigate potential terrorist threats and keep people safe,” Cuomo said. “This order gives our partners in New Jersey and Connecticut greater ability to help patrol and protect our mass transit networks. Together we will continue to remain vigilant, and I urge all travelers to stay alert and safe throughout the holidays.”
The holiday season tends to be a time of heightened alert and risk of terror attacks as hundreds of thousands of commuters travel between New York, New Jersey and Connecticut each day via mass transit systems, including inter-state rail, bus and ferry systems.
Increased manpower and overall law enforcement presence will allow governments throughout the region to protect public safety and provide an additional reassurance to commuters, Cuomo’s press release said.
The order was issued on Dec. 8 and will remain in effect for 30 days.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) and federal and city politicians last Thursday called on the MTA to conduct a feasibility study on utilizing the Rockaway Beach Rail Line and other rights-of-way in the five boroughs.
“There is no greater asset to our transit network than existing rights-of-way. With the Rockaway Beach Rail Line and the other underutilized rights-of-way throughout the city, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make lasting improvements to our transportation network and meet the demands of our growing populations,” Goldfeder said during a meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Transportation. “As Queens residents, we are not asking for more than others, but rather for a fair share, to give our families the opportunity to thrive and grow.”
Goldfeder was joined by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn), a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and a supporter of restoring the abandoned rail line.
“Restoration of the Rockaway Beach Line would not only provide much needed fast and efficient train service to the Rockaways and southern Queens but would enable a true one-seat ride to Kennedy Airport from Manhattan,” Nadler said in a statement.
Goldfeder was testifying in favor of a resolution proposed by committee Chairman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), which calls on the MTA to “conduct a comprehensive study of unused and underutilized railroad rights-of-way in New York City for the purpose of evaluating the feasibility of increased passenger service along such corridors.”
In a statement, Rodriguez indicated support for the Rockaway Beach Rail Line to be studied, among others in the city.
“With the MTA struggling for capital dollars for maintenance nonetheless expansion, it is incumbent on our city to evaluate the best and cheapest way to expand our public transit system: unused and lightly used rail,” he said. “Lines like the Rockaway Beach Line are ripe for development with minimal city and state funding, all we need to do is tap into these resources.”
During his testimony, Goldfeder pointed out the abandoned rail line would cost less to restore than the construction of the decades-in-the-making Second Avenue subway line.
“Phase I of the Second Avenue subway project will cost $4.45 billion to build less than 2 miles of track. By contrast, reactivating the Rockaway Beach Rail Line could cost as little as $1 billion to create 3.5 miles of new train lines on the existing right-of-way,” the assemblyman said.
Following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris that left 129 dead and hundreds of others wounded, U.S. transit agencies have stepped up security measures.
Among agencies that announced tighter security yesterday is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which has upped the number of patrols, K9 sweeps and random bag checks and screenings for explosives across its system.
WMATA announced its beefed-up security actions following news yesterday of a video from the terrorist group the Islamic State warning of similar attacks on Washington, D.C. The group claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris.
The additional patrols began Friday evening and will continue for an unspecified period of time, WMATA officials said in a press release. At the same time, the agency’s police department has more than 20 K9 teams performing security sweeps in and around rail stations and other critical infrastructure.
Additionally, WMATA’s police force and local and federal law enforcement partners have implemented several other countermeasures that “are not visible to the traveling public,” agency officials said.
At a news conference yesterday, WMATA’s Police Chief Ron Pavlik said that the agency also would increase monitoring of its closed-circuit security footage.
“In light of the events in Paris you can never be too careful,” Pavlik said, according to The Washington Post. “Although there’s no credible threat here [in] the United States, we can’t turn a blind eye to the events that occurred in Paris.”
For its part, Amtrak is deploying extra K9 units, uniformed personnel and long guns, according to the paper.
Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo late last week directed state agencies, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), to be on a heightened state of alert.
Additional personnel at these agencies have been deployed at high-density areas and large public gatherings, Cuomo’s staffers said in a press release.
PANYNJ police have also increased security at bridges, tunnels, rail, the World Trade Center and elsewhere.