New transit route through Brooklyn and Queens tops Hochul's list of transportation goals

Thomas C. Zambito
Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to develop a rail or bus line along existing right-of-way in Brooklyn and Queens that would provide transit-starved communities with a way to get to work.

Hochul will ask the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to identify the best transit option — heavy or light rail or bus rapid transit — for a stretch of freight right-of-way that runs from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to Jackson Heights, Queens.

“Today, I’m announcing a bold idea,” Hochul said during Wednesday's State of the State address. “Take an old, unused, 14-mile long right-of-way and create what we’re calling the Interborough Express.”

The governor said the line will provide transit service and access to jobs for communities of nearly 1 million people that are expected to grow in the next 25 years. End to end travel time would be less than 40 minutes.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers her first State of the State address in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool)

The proposal is among a slate of transportation projects, either in the works or new, highlighted in a 237-page list of proposals that accompanied Wednesday's address.

The goal for several initiatives will be remedying transportation mistakes of the past that devastated communities of color from the Bronx to Buffalo by dropping traffic-choked highways right down the middle of them, Hochul said.

“Infrastructure is all about connections and we need to reconnect neighborhoods that were severed by asphalt highways, disproportionately impacting communities of color,” Hochul said. “We’re going to reverse the damage that was done more than half a century ago.”

New projects will replace “polluting highways” with “walking, cycling, active streets and green spaces designed to tie together communities and small businesses,” the outline said.

Among the initiatives:

  • Completing the removal of the Inner Loop freeway in Rochester, by building on the successful completion of the Inner Loop East project in 2017. The new Inner Loop North will connect communities in downtown Rochester with direct links to the Genesee River and the High Falls District and create new green spaces.
  • Reconnect neighborhoods along a section of the Kensington Expressway corridor in Buffalo, between Best and East Ferry streets.
  • Partnering with the city of New York to study the possibility of covering over sections of the Cross-Bronx Expressway to reconnect neighborhoods and increase open space.
  • Replacing an elevated structure along I-81 in Syracuse with a community grid that would move traffic onto long streets. The project would reconnect neighborhoods that were severed by the construction of the interstate.

Hochul has already expressed support for the MTA’s Penn Station Access Project, which would provide Metro-North riders with a one-seat ride to Manhattan’s west side and create four new stations in the Bronx serving some 250,000 residents.

Map shows the planned Penn Station Access plan that will allow some Metro-North New Haven Line trains to go to Penn Station, via Amtrak tracks. The plan includes four new train stations in the Bronx.

She wants to see the Gateway Program — a two-track rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River — as well as the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway line move forward.

Commuter advocates welcomed Hochul’s support for projects that will shorten commute times.

“These priorities will help reshape our regional transit maps to expand service to those who don’t currently have it,” said Lisa Daglian, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA.

The Interborough Express, originally conceived as the Triboro Line, could link “hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of New Yorkers” to major subway lines, Daglian said.

“Increasing connectivity between the outer boroughs is a vital step to creating the 21st century transit system our region and riders deserve,” Daglian said.

The new line would repurpose the existing Bay Ridge Branch right-of-way and provide service for more than a dozen neighborhoods including Flatbush, Midwood and Brownsville in Brooklyn and Maspeth and Middle Village in Queens.

The MTA says the corridor along the line has about 900,000 residents and 260,000 jobs and is expected to grow by 41,000 people and 15,000 jobs in the next 25 years.

Daglian’s hoping the state will consider extending the Interborough Express to LaGuardia Airport.

Hochul also touted congestion pricing — the plan to charge drivers for entering Manhattan at 60th Street and below — as a climate-friendly approach that will deliver a revenue stream to the MTA at a time when ridership on subway and commuter rails remains below pre-pandemic levels.

“That sustainability — both environmental and financial — is needed now more than ever,” Hochul writes.

Traffic travels north along 10th Avenue and West 57th Street in New York City, Nov. 19, 2021.

Rachael Fauss, a senior research analyst with the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany, said Hochul will need to stay focused on the MTA’s budget crisis given the declining ridership and the likelihood that federal bailout money will dry up in the coming years.

“The MTA will very soon need new, lock-boxed operating revenues to keep the subways, commuter rails and buses running and build back the MTA's workforce,” Fauss said. “We hope to see the MTA's operating budget addressed in this year's state budget so the MTA can plan its future and make good on its commitments to riders as it seeks to have them return to the system."

Other transportation initiatives already under way that Hochul would like to see completed include:

  • Constructing a new highway interchange in the Bronx that will help revitalize the South Bronx. The Bruckner-Sheridan Interchange at Hunts Point will reduce commercial traffic and improve air quality in the South Bronx, which has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation, Hochul says. It will support the growth of the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, which provides 60% of the produce consumed in New York City.
  • Improve access to John F. Kennedy International Airport by building managed-use lanes on the Van Wyck Expressway from the Kew Gardens Interchange to the airport. Entrance and exit ramps will be reconfigured to eliminate back-ups.
  • Completing the Albany Skyway, which converted an under-utilized I-787 exit ramp to Clinton Street into a park with a landscape promenade and event spaces. It will provide connections between downtown Albany and nearby neighborhoods, including Arbor Hill and Sheridan Hollow.

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