To The Editor:
NYC Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley proposal to introduce light rail train on portions of the old Long Island Rail Road Montauk branch sounds great on paper. As always, the devil in the details that don’t exist. There has been no planning feasibility studies, environmental documents or preliminary design and engineering efforts necessary to validate any basic estimates for construction costs. Ms. Crowley’s belief that it would be well under $100 million doesn’t add up. New Jersey Transit’s Hudson Bergen Light Rail cost $1.2 billion and Newark Elizabeth Light Rail cost $694 million 16 years ago. Clearly costs would be far greater in today’s dollars.
There are no dollars programmed to support any work for advance of this project contained with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s original $32 billion Five Year 2015 – 2019 Five Year Capital Plan. Ditto for the revised $28 billion version or the NYC municipal budget. Cost estimates would have to be refined as progress proceeds beyond the planning and environmental phases into real and final design efforts. History has shown that estimated costs for construction usually trend upwards as projects mature toward 100 percent final design. Progression of final design refines the detailed scope of work necessary to support construction. The anticipated final potential cost would never be known until completion. Costs would be further refined by award of construction contracts followed by any unforeseen site conditions and change orders to the base contracts during the course of construction.
The proposed route will traverse several neighborhoods impacting thousands of people living nearby. How will they react to potential noise and visual impacts? There are serious legal and operational issues to be resolved with the Federal Rail Road Administration. They have regulatory jurisdiction over significant portions of the proposed route which would run on an existing active freight tracks. You have to deal with light rail and freight trains coexisting on the same narrow corridor. There is no available project budget to justify key project component costs. They would have to cover a series of new stations. These will have to meet the Americans Disability Act (ADA) access standards; grade crossing, signal and safety improvements, new light rail rolling stock, land acquisition, potential business relocation along with construction of a new maintenance, operations and storage yard to support any light rail car fleet.
Other Queens elected officials, transit riders and transit advocacy groups all have their own transportation priority projects which may conflict with this proposal.
The MTA New York City Transit conducted a feasibility study during the 1980’s to convert this LIRR branch to a subway on the ground. Intense vocal local community opposition killed this project before it progressed beyond a planning study. The same community opposition may also come out against any active light rail as well.
Rather than spend several hundred million dollars to build a Light Rail system which could take a decade or more, why not ask the LIRR to resume service on this corridor? They could run a two car scoot service reconnecting Long Island City, Glendale and Middle Village with other communities including Richmond Hill and other intermediate stops to Jamaica. The LIRR could use existing equipment which would afford for early implementation of service versus Light Rail. This would provide connections east bound to the J/Z and E subway lines, Kennedy Airport via Train to Plane and Jamaica LIRR Station. Queens residents traveling to jobs and colleges in Nassau and Suffolk counties would have access to all LIRR branches except the Port Washington line. Ditto for those traveling to the Barclay Center and downtown Brooklyn via the LIRR Atlantic Avenue branch.