Interborough Express Plows Through Past Opposition to Rail Line Reactivation

Interborough Express Plows Through Past Opposition to Rail Line Reactivation

Gabriel Sandoval, THE CITY

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Renderings of a possible Interborough Express transit line connecting Queens and Brooklyn. | Kathy Hochul/Twitter

The presidents of Brooklyn and Queens have linked up behind Gov. Kathy Hochul’s push to bring public transit service to an underused freight line in the heart of their boroughs — but not every official on the 14-mile route is cheering.

On Thursday, Hochul revealed the findings of a fast-tracked feasibility study that found bus rapid transit, light rail or commuter-style service would all potentially work, layered with the existing line, providing service from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to Jackson Heights, Queens.

“We’re missing that logical connection,” Hochul said on Thursday at a news conference at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, where the freight tracks end — highlighting the benefits for a projected 88,000 riders who would use the line.

“If you can shave 30 or 40 minutes off someone’s commute every single day, that is a gift,” Hochul said, noting an end-to-end ride would take about 40 minutes.

Joining her was Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, who announced his support for further review now getting underway on the concept, which Hochul has dubbed the Interborough Express.

“We are a growing city that is going to need to change in a dynamic and quick way how goods and people are moving around in the city of New York,” Reynoso said. “It has to be done.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Councilmember Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) already came out in favor of the IBX after Hochul highlighted the proposal in her State of the State address earlier this month.

The Interborough Express would connect with as many as 17 subway stations and the Long Island Railroad, the study shows, providing a path for mid-borough riders to move quickly between boroughs without a detour through Manhattan. 

Left out is The Bronx, part of the past Triboro X proposal from the Regional Plan Association but infeasible to reach because the existing Hell Gate bridge to Queens is already at capacity, the MTA found.

The MTA study found that passenger traffic could coexist with the Bay Ridge Branch, a freight rail corridor already extending between Brooklyn and Queens. Preserving and expanding industrial service on the line is key to realizing a century-old proposal to build a cross-harbor freight tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, long  championed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan/Brooklyn).

A ‘Devastating Railroad’

But that freight project has generated fierce pushback in the past, led by local officials along the Brooklyn route.

One, state Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, has been a vocal opponent for years. In his official candidate profile while running for reelection to the City Council in 2005, Felder wrote: 

“We face the threat of a Cross Harbor Tunnel that would run 32 round-trip freight trains daily, 500,000 railcars annually, through the heart of the district. I pledge to continue fighting this devastating railroad, ensuring that Midwood, Bensonhurst and Boro Park remain great places to live, work, and raise a family.”

Felder declined to comment, via a spokesperson.  

“Senator Felder is waiting on more information to come in from the governor’s office before commenting,” said the spokesperson, Sheri Tovi. “We hope to have a clearer picture and more to say very soon.”

The MTA released a map showing the planned route of the Interborough Express line.

Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein, whose predecessor, Dov Hikind, was also an opponent, did not respond to a request for comment from THE CITY.

On Friday, THE CITY spoke with residents of Midwood, where the IBX would cut through their mostly quiet neighborhood. Some said they were unaware of the project. Several declined interviews. One declared “all” locals were opposed.  

“We’re definitely not excited about that plan,” said another woman from her porch.

Tarek Abdelaaty, 40, expressed concerns about potential noise and air pollution, but nevertheless backed the idea of a new transit line cutting through his neighborhood. 

“It’s gonna be amazing, if they really succeed to do something like that,” he said.  

Abdelaaty, who lives with his wife and four children on a dead-end block in Midwood, said he’d like to travel to Queens more frequently but the commute is too arduous. 

“I’m not wasting like two hours from my life just to get there,” he said. 

On Friday afternoon, THE CITY took the Manhattan-bound 7 train from 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, transferred to the Q at Times Square and arrived at the Avenue J station in Midwood an hour and 16 minutes later.     

All Aboard?

Officials in some past bastions of opposition are declaring themselves on board Hochul’s train, at least to follow through with the environmental impact study now commencing. 

In Queens, Councilmember Robert Holden represents transit-poor Maspeth and Middle Village, where opposition to the Cross Harbor project was once loud. But he provided a statement in support for Hochul’s announcement, saying: “We have a public transit desert in my district and this project could help a lot of people get around and reduce commute times.”

He allowed for lingering concerns, adding: “We need a thorough study to investigate every aspect of how this project would affect every aspect of our neighborhoods.”

At the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Gov. Kathy Hochul announces her plan to convert existing freight lines into an Interborough Express, Jan. 20. 2022.

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, the influential chair of the the Kings County Democratic Party, retweeted Hochul’s announcement Thursday night and stated: “We no longer live in a Manhattan-centric city, and I am grateful for this huge infrastructure project which will service our district, and many others, which have long been transportation deserts. Every city should look to NYC as an example.”  

Her district straddles the freight line in Flatbush — and includes Brooklyn College, which would be directly served by the Interborough Express.

Meanwhile, newly inaugurated Council members along the line are also among those hailing Hochul’s hybrid freight/passenger idea as a boon for their constituents.

Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse (D-Brooklyn), who represents Bergen Beach, Canarsie, Flatlands and Sheepshead Bay and serves on the Council’s transportation committee, called her district “the epitome of a transportation desert, with not a single subway station located within it.” 

She added that her “constituents are thirsty for additional options to meet their commuting needs.” 

Councilmember Sandy Nurse (D-Brooklyn), whose district includes parts of Bushwick, East New York and Brownsville, said that the express would “bring vital new transit links” through the heart of her district, “connecting predominantly of color communities” in the boroughs.

Seeking Speed

On Thursday evening, at the 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue subway station in Jackson Heights, most commuters interviewed by THE CITY shared positive reactions to the Interborough Express concept. 

The exception was Linda Speranza, 68, who called a new transit line “a waste of money.”  

“We already have major arteries,” said Speranza, who was waiting for a bus to go home to East Elmhurst. When she travels to Brooklyn, she said, she drives her vehicle on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. “We just don’t have the funds.” 

Ricki Daza, 33, said he thought it would be a worthwhile investment. He said that while he’s a cook at a Colombian restaurant nearby on Northern Boulevard, the new line would help other workers cut down on their commute time.

“We need that means of transportation that arrives quickly,” Daza said in Spanish. 

Monica Romero, 52, of Jackson Heights, also welcomed the idea.

“It’s gonna be perfect for all citizens, even for the tourists,” she said.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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