Congressmen Gregory Meeks and Hakeem Jefferies along with Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder signed a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last Thursday to ask for the allocation of federal disaster recovery aid for a transportation study.
They were joined by a number of transportation advocates underneath a portion of the abandoned line, overtaken by fallen trees and debris for some 50 years, at 99th Street and Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park on Sunday.
Their hope is to find the best solution for the 3.5-mile stretch of railway that runs through Rego Park, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park.
“Our families are struggling to rebuild after Sandy,” Goldfeder said. “Investing in our transportation infrastructure will increase public travel options for every Queens resident, help our environment, while boosting our struggling economy and small businesses by increasing intra-borough connectivity and creating jobs.”
With no specifics outlined in the request, there is plenty of room for theoretical solutions.
“In Ontario, there is a line like this where a bus goes up onto it,” Goldfeder said. “There are so many different ideas.”
First and foremost on their minds and noted in the letter, however, are the difficulties residents and business owners are currently having in southwest Queens and Rockaway five months after the storm.
“Although Superstorm Sandy destroyed our coastlines and paralyzed our communities, we have an opportunity to rebuild the city in a smart and sustainable way that proactively addresses our future needs,” Jefferies said. “Residents of southern Brooklyn and Queens currently face the longest commute averages in the city because of the lack of reliable transportation.”
To prepare for the possibility of future storms, Meeks said he supports a restoration of the rail line to secure a reliable means of transportation. He views this plan similar to that of the light rail at JFK.
“The actions Jefferies, Goldfeder and I are asking Secretary LaHood to take would be an important step in the recovery and a bold step in the future of reliable transportation for the devastated areas of the Rockaways and southern Queens,” Meeks said. “Restoring the rail line would speed up the pace of recovery for residents and local businesses and create hundreds of jobs while laying the foundation for a transportation network that accommodates our future growth.”
According to Meeks, the study could cost a couple hundred thousand dollars.
“We’re leaving all of our options open,” he said. “We want the experts to come and tell us what it is.”
George Haikalis, president of the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility, has been working with a group of NYU students, who he says will have a study completed in under a month to find the best solution.
“I think people who live along the railway have every right to be concerned. It’s their home,” Haikalis said. “On the other hand, this effects everybody in Queens and the elected officials have to think about a bigger picture.”
Haikalis has been at the forefront of the transportation advocacy campaign for the line and recognized the other suggestions, such as the QueensWay, a plan set forth by park advocates to convert the rail line into a public greenway.
“Park advocates have brought up the QueensWay, and I think it's really great because it is a greenway when you look at it,” Haikalis said. “But it doesn’t mean you can’t have a train there too.”
District Leader Lew Simon has been advocating for the line’s restoration since 1996, and praised the elected officials' support of a transportation study on the rail line.
“Rockaway residents will get to Penn Station in 32 minutes, the running time from Howard Beach is 20 minutes and it’s only 18 minutes from Ozone Park,” Simon said. “This train is a win-win for us all.”