Rockaway Branch Line Gets A Congressional Boost
Long a dream of local commuters and transit buffs, the reactivation of the Rockaway Branch line which would allow for a speedy commute from Rockaway to Penn Station, got a considerable boost when Congressmen Gregory Meeks and Hakeem Jeffries announced that they are seeking a portion of Sandy relief aid to fund a study about restoring the line. Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, a steady and vocal supporter of the reactivation effort, joined the congressmen at a Sunday press conference just below the elevated tracks at Liberty Avenue and 99th Street.
The support of two congressmen is significant because they have sway as far as spending Sandy relief fund monies. “Sandy made this day necessary,” Meeks said to an audience that included residents of Rockaway and Richmond Hill. He praised Lew Simon and Dolores Orr of Community Board 14 for their long-held commitment to the reactivation. “They were right. And now we all know infrastructure is more important than ever,” Meeks said, adding, “Revitalizing this line is about resilience.”
Meeks and Jeffries sent a letter to Ray Lahood, Secretary of Transportation, seeking the funding. The two congressman said the line would provide vital northsouth travel in Queens and create jobs. Further, they maintain that reactivation would be an environmental bonus for the borough. “We’ve got to get people out of their cars, Jeffries said. “But the way it is now, people don’t have options and are forced to drive.”
Goldfeder has made transportation development for Queens’ residents a top priority and delivered a petition with nearly 3,000 signatures from the Howard Beach community to Governor Cuomo, the Port Authority, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in support of bringing the line back to life. The petition cited the potential to rebuild efficiently after Sandy as a primary reason to examine feasibility of this line and other transportation options for Southern Queens and Rockaway.
The reactivation faces more than financial and logistic challenges. Some neighborhood groups throughout Queens are pushing for the dormant tracks to be turned into parkland, a Queens version of the High Line. Governor Cuomo recently awarded $467,000 in grant money for a feasibility study about creating a “Queensway.”
Goldfeder said the money Meeks and Jeffries are seeking is for a study that will consider all possible options. He maintains, it does not have be an “either or” and as an example cited a Toronto development which turned an abandoned track into a bus route. The members noted in their letter, the current transit infrastructure of Queens is incapable of servicing the present population and does not offer any reliable or alternative travel options. “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,” Meeks said.