2012-02-24 / Milestones

East End Matters

Time To Reopen Old Rockaway Beach LIRR Line
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Imagine, if you will, being able to access the Long Island Rail Road by taking the A train to Aqueduct. Then imagine travel time to Manhattan being cut in half for Rockaway residents due to this new connection. And for an extra added bonus imagine the ability to connect to several nearby subway lines as you head into the city. Now imagine that the investment to do all this is done with private monies.

No, this is not an April Fools column. After years of supporters urging the powers that be to reopen the old Rockaway Beach LIRR line and being told it would cost too much, it seems the time has come that such a thought would no longer be considered a fool’s errand. Governor Cuomo’s proposal to build a world class convention center near the Resorts World Casino, which opened in October at Aqueduct, has fueled the flames anew for those who have lobbied for years for the reopening of the LIRR line. As reported in The Wave last week, Genting, which built the casino, would be responsible for the repair of the infrastructure of the former Rockaway Beach Line.

“With the opening of the casino at Aqueduct and the proposed convention center, having adequate transportation to and from Queens must be a top priority,” Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder said. “Now more than ever our families need access to affordable and reliable public transportation.”

Yet, there is something that could stand in the way of reconnecting the old LIRR line to Rockaway. Community Board 14, which represents the Rockaways, is in favor of reopening the rail line. But Community Board 9, which represents Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Kew Gardens and Ozone Park is not. CB 9 has thrown its support behind developing a greenway where the old rail lines are.

As a matter of fact, it is interesting to see how far back the greenway proposal goes. CB 9 passed a resolution supporting it in 2004. Students from Newcomers High School in Long Island City began participating in the effort in January 2005. Students met with Congressman Peter King and then-Senator Hillary Clinton to discuss the issue in early 2005. Also in 2005 Rails to Trails Conservatory threw its support behind the project. Not much of anything else can be found on the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee’s website past 2005. That is until it received new life late last year. The committee got together with the Trust for Public Land, which in December agreed to do a feasibility study on the greenway, pending raising the necessary monies. Community Board 6, which represents Forest Hills and Rego Park, voted against the greenway in 2007. The 3.5 mile greenway would go from Rego Park to Ozone Park.

Fortunately for Rockaway, Cuomo’s proposal of a convention center at Aqueduct and the offer by Genting to pay for the renovation of the line has turned the attention back to the need for improved transportation in the area. For Genting, the rail line would be an investment that would help bring more customers to the casino. For Rockaway, a place that is woefully lacking sufficient transportation options, it would be a welcome connection with the mainland. It would also give those who want to visit our shores, but choose instead beaches on the mainland because of the travel concerns, a better way to get to Rockaway.

Instead of traveling the A train through Brooklyn to get to Manhattan, in just a few stops, the line will connect with the main LIRR line that heads into Penn Station. Connections to subway lines J, Z, E, F, M and the AirTrain will be nearby. The rails have sat unused for nearly 50 years. Now is the time to take advantage of the opportunity to revitalize this important transportation route.

Ah, but what about those who want the greenway, you may ask? I’m not saying green spaces are not important. But this is one of those times to be practical. Private funds invested for much needed transportation improvements – improvements that can only help the economic development of Rockaway and make transportation to and from the peninsula a whole lot easier? It’s really a no-brainer. It’s a win for Genting and most importantly a win for Rockaway. In the end it will be a win for all of Queens. How can you argue with that?

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