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.”