The past month has reignited a debate about the future of a defunct rail in Queens.
Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Park) shed some attention on the efforts to transform the abandoned Rockaway Beach Rail Line running through Central and South Queens when she asked for federal infrastructure to create a new rail line along the tracks.
But for years, The Trust for Public Land, a conservation group, has been lobbying to convert a 3.5-mile path along the abandoned rail into the QueensWay, a park similar to Manhattan’s High Line, stretching from Rego Park to Ozone Park.
Unlike the plan to create a rail line that would require federal support, the fate of the QueensWay project will ultimately rely on the city’s capital budget. While the estimated cost to create a train line ranges from $6.7 billion to reactivate the rail spur for the LIRR to $8.1 billion to create a subway connector, a 2014 study for the QueensWay pegged it at an estimated $120 million, a cost that would come out of the mayor’s capital budget, said Karen Imas, a volunteer advocate for the project.
The QueensWay recently got some new publicity after mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang mentioned it as a key part of his plan to invest in park space. Nine mayoral candidates have endorsed the New Yorkers for Parks Five Point Plan for Parks Equity that mentions building new parks like the QueensWay as a priority. On Wednesday former Sanitation Department Commissioner Kathryn Garcia held a press conference in which she joined Yang in explicit support of the QueensWay.
Yang’s campaign website said that while he’s aware of the need to improve transportation in South Queens, he doesn’t believe a subway to be feasible and he’s committed to seeing the trail through to fruition. The platform adds that the QueensWay would add to the area’s transportation through offering multimodal transportation, such as safe walking and bike paths that build access to the neighboring bus stops and subway lines.
Imas said that the pandemic has awakened an appetite for more green space “and needs around parks, the needs for more safe cycling in areas that don’t have a lot of bike paths or safe cycling areas.”
Within the span of Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park that the park would cut through, there are five contiguous ZIP codes that contain no bike lanes or cycling infrastructure whatsoever.
Imas added that though the estimated cost of the project is over $100 million, the construction of the path would take a phased approach, and the request for its first phase would cost somewhere between $20 and $25 million.
On the other hand, Pheffer Amato said that part of her intention in writing the letter asking for federal funding for the rail was to make sure “the conversation about this railroad stays active.”“The MTA knows two things about our district: We want the toll removed on the Cross Bay Bridge, and we need better transportation options in Southern Queens and that the RBRL is a solution to that problem,” said Pheffer Amato in a stateme