Governor Kathy Hochul wants to revive a proposal to repurpose miles freight rail lines between southern Brooklyn and Queens for a new public transit dubbed the “Interborough Express.”
“Today I’m announcing a bold idea: take an old unused, 14-mile-long right-of-way and create what we’re calling the Interborough Express, a new rail service that will connect Brooklyn and Queens,” Hochul announced at her State of the State address Wednesday. “I’ll direct the MTA to immediately commence an environmental review so we get that project rolling down the track.”
The scheme would open tracks for passenger service from Bay Ridge through southern and south-eastern parts of Brooklyn up to Jackson Heights in Queens, while still preserving the corridor for freight use.
It’s a shorter version of the previous 24-mile proposal pushed by the Regional Plan Association since the 1990s, known as the Triboro RX, that would have run further north to Astoria, Randall’s Island, and up into the Bronx to Co-Op City.
Hochul’s version would serve between 74,000-88,000 weekday riders and connect the spokes of up to 17 subway lines along with Long Island Rail Road stops.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority must study the project to see whether it would be best to build a train, light rail, or bus rapid transit along the corridor, according to Hochul, who controls the massive agency.
“This project would smartly repurpose existing infrastructure to add mass transit and create access to jobs, education, and opportunity for so many residents of Queens and Brooklyn,” said MTA acting Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber in a statement. “I applaud Governor Hochul’s leadership, and we are enthusiastic to work with her, and federal and state partners to advance the Interborough concept.”
The Interborough Express would offer a 40-minute trip end-to-end for straphangers who currently rely on buses stuck in traffic to commute within or between the boroughs and connect destinations like Brooklyn College, according to one local pol.
“Instead of having to travel an hour to go all the way downtown, catch the 5 all the way back out again, you can take the R train, or you live off the R train or the F train or the D train or the N train,” state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who represents parts of southern Brooklyn, told amNewYork Metro. “That’s a game changer.”
The roughly 900,000 residents along the line are also 71% minority communities and one third are 1.5 times below the federal poverty level.
“For us to be able to really start decentralizing our system from Manhattan… I think it just really connects communities of color in ways that we never have before,” said Queens state Sen. Jessica Ramos, who represents the northern end of the proposed line at Jackson Heights. “The sheer amount of transportation deserts have actually kept many families disconnected for a long time.”
MTA previously commissioned a more preliminary feasibility study with infrastructure firm AECOM in early 2020 to operate transit alongside freight rail service along the so-called Bay Ridge Line, which the RPA at the time estimated would $1-$2 billion.
Hochul believes the project will be completed faster than the state’s notoriously slow transit expansions because it would be built on an existing right-of-way.