Proposed 14-mile transit line connecting Queens and Brooklyn is getting a little closer

The MTA Interborough Express would include either a bus rapid transit system, light rail, or conventional heavy rail (Render provided by MTA)

January 21, 2022 By Michael Dorgan

The state’s plan to connect Queens to Brooklyn via a transit line has taken a big step forward with the release of a new feasibility study.

the studyannounced Thursday by Governor Kathy Hochul and the MTA, evaluated the possibility of converting an existing 14-mile freight line — running from Jackson Heights to Sunset Park — to a commuter rail or bus line.

The year-long study deemed the project feasible and in high demand. It was commissioned in 2020 and produced by MTA consultants.

The project would be called “Interborough Express” or “IBX,” and its end-to-end travel time would be less than 40 minutes, according to the study. It would provide connections to 17 existing subway lines as well as the Long Island Rail Road and serve up to 88,000 people daily.

Hochul called the project a “once-in-a-generation opportunity,” noting that about half of the 900,000 residents it would serve don’t have a car. According to the study, about a third of residents along the corridor fall below the federal poverty line of 150%, while 25% of residents speak “less” English.

“These are the people we’re trying to serve, these are the people who need that kind of connection and to be taken out of their day-to-day existence trying to catch a bus to get to work,” Hochul said during of a press conference in Baie Ridge.

She also touted the project as boosting economic growth by creating more than 20,000 union-paying jobs. The study also revealed that there are 260,000 jobs in the area that would be immediately served by the Interborough Express

The project aims to provide a transportation option between the two outer boroughs as an alternative to Manhattan-centric subway lines. Currently, many New Yorkers commuting between the two boroughs must take the subway through Manhattan to get to their final destination.

The feasibility study revealed that more people commute between Brooklyn and Queens than between those boroughs and Manhattan.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said the Interborough Express will connect families in Queens and Brooklyn to new job opportunities while dramatically reducing commute times in the process.

“It’s really a game-changer for thousands of people across the border in Queens or Brooklyn,” Richards said.

He said the vitality of Queens and Brooklyn depends heavily on the reliability of its public transportation system.

“But for far too many families in both boroughs…the inability to travel between Queens and Brooklyn quickly and efficiently has been an unnecessary detriment to their economic well-being.”

The service would connect the Queens neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood (Map provided by MTA via Interborough Express Feasibility Study)

The Interborough Express would use part of the Bay Ridge Branch freight railroad that runs north-south through Queens and Brooklyn.

The service would link the Queens neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood and the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick, East New York, Brownsville, New Lots, Flatlands, Flatbush, Midwood, Kensington, Borough Park and Sunset Park.

Many of these communities do not have rail transportation. The Interborough Express would change this by adding stops in these areas.

According to the study, the potential mode of transportation along the line would be either a bus rapid transit system, light rail, or conventional heavy rail.

The next step in the process is for the MTA to conduct an environmental review that will include soliciting comments from the public, elected officials and other stakeholders. The review would determine the most appropriate mode of public transport to use and was given the green light to proceed by Hochul.

A bus rapid transit system would run either along existing freight lanes or over the lanes of an overpass. The buses would be powered by electricity.

The alternative to light rail would be a two-track line. Most of the line would run side-by-side with the freight tracks while other parts would run on a viaduct above the freight tracks at street level.

The conventional rail option would see two dedicated passenger rail tracks running largely alongside the existing freight rail line. The line would use trains similar to subway cars, allowing faster boarding and disembarking as well as more standing room on the trains.

Concepts showing the conventional rail option at a possible Roosevelt Avenue (L) station and what it would look like along current freight tracks (Render provided by MTA)

Janno Lieber, interim chairman and CEO of MTA, did not provide a price for the project, saying only that it would be in the “single digit billions”.

It’s also unclear how the project would be funded or what the construction schedule would be. When construction begins, it will likely take “three to five years,” Lieber said.

The publication of the study was welcomed by Queen’s Counsel Member Robert Holden, who represents District 30 covering Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Woodhaven and Woodside.

“We have a transit desert in my district and this project could help a lot of people get around and reduce commute times,” Holden said.

“We need a comprehensive study to investigate all aspects of how this project would affect all aspects of our neighborhoods.”

The study has also been widely welcomed by public transport advocates.

“The Interborough Express is a bold and important step toward transit fairness for millions of riders in Brooklyn and Queens,” said Mayra Aldás-Deckert, lead organizer for Riders Alliance.

“By taking advantage of old infrastructure and providing new options for residents of dozens of the city’s dense neighborhoods, the Interborough Express will dramatically improve access to work, education, healthcare and other key opportunities.”

The state project is similar to a written proposal by the NY, NJ and CT-focused transit advocacy group, Regional Plan Association in the 1990s. The proposal called “The Triboro” suggests creating a commuter rail on the same existing tracks through Queens and Brooklyn , but extending it to Astoria and the Bronx.

The study, however, found that there was not enough space along the existing Hell Gate line – which connects Astoria to the Bronx – to build additional tracks as part of the Interborough Express line.

Rendering showing a street level view of a possible bus rapid transit station in Brooklyn (Render provided by MTA)

MTA Interborough Express

Rendering of the platform-level view of the conventional rail alternative to a possible Roosevelt Avenue station (Render provided by MTA)

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