BY TRONE DOWD
What has been dubbed the Queens Light Rail is being seen by many as a potential booster for the economy and future businesses in the western and southeast Queens areas.
The idea of the rail has been tossed around since last year. The plan would use the former South Side Rail Road line, which later became property of the Long Island Rail Road, to create a connecting rail between Montauk—running through southeast Queens via Jamaica into western Queens via Glendale—and Astoria. As it stands now, the rail is grossly underused, according to elected officials such as Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), who has been advocating for its construction since last year.
Since the rail was closed down in 1998, it has been used exclusively for freight trains, albeit only in the early morning hours.
Transportation advocates believe that there is opportunity to fix some of the issues the borough has had in areas known as transit deserts.
According to architecture company Kohn Pedersen Fox, the area running along this once-crucial rail line has suffered for nearly a century. The company reported that 70 percent of the buildings along that particular line were constructed between 1910 and 1930.
Only 5 percent of the buildings currently standing were built after 1980, something that Crowley’s office has attributed to the “lack of rail service.”
“I think that it could bring real opportunity in terms of economic development, at least in a half mile surrounding the corridor,” the councilwoman said. “It is nine miles. You already see good economic development happening in areas like Jamaica, and it is certainly happening more in Long Island City. I believe emerging companies in New York are going to Brooklyn, which is more affordable than Chelsea or Union Square. The only reason they haven’t come to Queens as much is because of transportation.”
Crowley believes that the rail won’t just attract businesses. She thinks that it will bring a viable housing market along the rail line as well.
“There’s potential in the rail line’s ability to bring people here if it’s easier to get to work and other job opportunities,” Crowley said.
“Forty percent of the people who live in Queens work in Queens, but we’re spending an hour and a half minimum commuting to work. We need better options and this plan I believe is that option.”
A $500,000 feasibility study is set to start during the 2017 fiscal year. The rail line would be handled by the city, but would work through the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to make the option affordable for Queens residents.
During a visit to Community Board 12 in November, Crowley told residents that creating a form of transportation that would be handled by the city is crucial to meeting the demands of people who have waited forever for the state to meet those needs through traditional methods.
“If you look at the majority of people riding our subways and railroads, the money comes from the city of New York,” she explained.
“Yet, we never get our fair share [of efficient service] from the Long Island Railroad or the MTA. What I would be able to do with this particular rail is fund a study to see if it’s feasible. I think that it could bring real opportunity in terms of economic development at least a half mile along the nine-mile corridor.”
The plan has been backed by a number of elected officials including U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St, Albans), state Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and City Council Transit Committee Chairwoman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan). It has also found support among civic leaders in Queens, including community boards 2, 5, 6, 9 and 12; the Queens Chamber of Commerce; and a number of local publications including the Queens Tribune.
“We need more options,” Crowley said. “We need transportation to be fair in Queens. We’re growing faster than planners could have ever imagined.”