Long Island commuters skeptical of rail link plan


By Ronda Kaysen

The Downtown business community has thrown its weight behind the J.F.K. rail link, insisting a new express train will ease the commute for workers traveling to Lower Manhattan from Long Island. But advocates for Long Island riders disagree, insisting a new train might actually make their commute worse.

The rail link would establish a direct link from Lower Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn and Jamaica, Queens by building a new tunnel beneath the East River. Riders could transfer at Jamaica for the Long Island Rail Road or continue on to J.F.K. airport. Travel time from Jamaica to Lower Manhattan would be cut by more than 10 minutes and from Lower Manhattan to J.F.K., travel time would be cut by 20 minutes officials insist.

Business leaders hail the $6 billion plan because they say it will trigger development and attract new companies Downtown. But critics insist that because the trip from Long Island would not be a “single seat” ride or even a same platform transfer, it will not be. Instead, riders would have to climb stairs or escalators at the transfer points, creating a cumbersome commute.

“Long Islanders will have a worse ride than they have now,” said Gerard Bringmann, vice chairperson of the Long Island Rail Road Commuters Council, at a public comment session for the project held on Monday. The New York State Legislature created the council in 1981 to represent L.I.R.R. riders. “We seriously question how many Long Islanders can use this.”

Commuter and public advocates disparaged the plan as a “major boondoggle” and a “poor use of resources.” Completing the Second Avenue subway, an M.T.A. project, and improving access from the east side of Long Island into Midtown would be a better use of public funds, critics insist.

The rail link would be funded only partially by the M.T.A. – it is sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration and jointly funded by M.T.A., Port Authority, Economic Development Corporation and Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

The criticism stands in stark contrast to the lavish support the plan has enjoyed from Downtown businesses. “Access for Long Island commuters… is critical to ensuring Lower Manhattan’s economic recovery and securing its role as a driving force in the local, regional and national economies,” said Dara McQuillan, a spokesperson for Silverstein Properties, the leaseholder for the World Trade Center site and 7 W.T.C., at the hearing.

Describing the project as the “most important priority for Downtown Manhattan,” Jennifer Hensley, an assistant vice president for the Downtown Alliance, which runs the neighborhood’s Business Improvement District, testified that a “rail link will encourage businesses to relocate and grow Downtown.” Lower Manhattan has slipped from its place as the nation’s third largest business district to the nation’s fourth largest, she added. Midtown, Chicago and now Washington D.C. are all ahead of Downtown.

A new rail link would “create incentive” for businesses to relocate and stay Downtown, business leaders insist, making the neighborhood more attractive to Long Island commuters.

Some Downtown residents also favor the plan. “The revitalization of Lower Manhattan depends on transportation,” said Community Board 1 member Jeff Galloway, a longtime Downtown resident and business owner, at the hearing.

The plan is still in its early stages and has yet to go through the scrutiny of a public review process. The public comment period will remain open until Sept. 17. After that, the Port Authority will lead a study to determine the environmental impact of the project and consider alternate solutions. A draft Environmental Impact Statement will be released in January 2007 and be followed by three months of comments. M.T.A. officials insist it is too soon to speculate when construction on the project might begin.


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