There were no surprises in the draft environmental impact statement for Belmont Park’s redevelopment, which includes a New York Islanders arena.
Two central issues remain: traffic and transit. Limiting vehicle traffic and improving public transit options are key to the game-winning goal: Building a new arena, a hotel and retail village at a site devoid of economic activity.
So, Empire State Development and MTA officials will have to work with the development team known as New York Arena Partners to find the best solutions.
On traffic, there’s only so much state officials can do. Even with the changes they plan, the Cross Island Parkway, and some other roads, including those in Queens, may take on more traffic. The developers should enlist traffic experts to provide fresh ideas. Public hearings in January could be forums for new thinking, too. State officials and the developers are right to encourage changes in behavior, like using ride-sharing and staying late after events.
Then there’s public transit. Empire State officials proposed adding only two LIRR trains before a game or concert, and two trains afterward, via the existing rail spur. They’d carry just over 2,000 people in each direction. That’s not enough. State and MTA officials must try to do more. And they must be flexible once the arena opens in 2021, so they can ramp up if demand outpaces supply.
Separately, state officials must not forget the bigger goal: a full-time LIRR station at Belmont with service in both directions. The MTA is in a budget crisis, with lots of priorities. No one is asking the MTA to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars for this now. But some private investment, or a public-private partnership, or a model involving tax revenue from the site, could be possible.
The MTA has to make public a menu of options at a variety of costs showing everything from increased service to a new station with new track. Then the developers, the MTA and state officials can determine the best choice.
But the project should proceed, with the MTA’s efforts running on a parallel, albeit perhaps longer-term, track.
A brighter economic future at Belmont is ahead.