This past January, the MTA unveiled further details on its Interborough Express (IBX) rail proposal, which would connect Jackson Heights with Bay Ridge via a light rail run mostly along freight rail lines. I say “mostly” because in Middle Village the proposal runs along some of the town’s major roads, seemingly without regard to local concerns.
First, the stops have been better defined. The plan calls for the line to have stations at Metropolitan Ave, where it would connect with the M train, Eliot Ave, which is a new addition, and then Grand Ave, as previously proposed. Meanwhile a stop on a viaduct high above Queens Blvd was eliminated from the route.
The MTA chose the most expensive option, light rail, for two reasons. One, they believe light rail would have higher ridership than a traditional subway or bus rapid transit. The other reason is that light rail can run along streets where the freight line right-of-way can’t accommodate additional tracks.
Unfortunately, the only section where that seems to be the case is the CSX train tunnel under All Faiths Cemetery.
This tunnel was deemed in need of replacement 4 years ago and is noticeably crumbling. Widening the tunnel to accommodate additional tracks while the tunnel is rebuilt seems like the logical solution. What the MTA is currently proposing defies all logic.
The plan (above) has the IBX ascending the tracks from where it runs next to the M train to street level at Metropolitan Ave. It would make a right turn onto Metro then a left turn onto 69th Street. From there it would veer right past PS128 down 69th Place, cross Penelope Ave and Juniper Blvd South and then rejoin the tracks in the area behind Villa Erasmo.
Let’s take this step by step:
- Two steep ramps would be required to allow the train to leave and enter the freight right-of-way at each end.
- At least two street lane closures (one on each side of every road) would be required on some of the busiest streets in Middle Village, interfering with several bus lines, as well as snarling truck and car traffic.
- The line would run past Christ the King High School, PS128 & its Annex, Juniper Valley Animal Hospital, Books and Rattles Day Care, several other small businesses, and dozens of homes.
- The plan calls for property condemnation (an estimated 137 individual properties along the entire line) but the specifics on that have not yet been revealed. There is no doubt that it will have to include a good number of parcels in Middle Village since the rest of the route (95%) will run along the established freight line.
The latest report says, “operation in the street may affect streetscape conditions, which will be studied in future project phases.” In other words, they’ll cross that tunnel when they come to it. The MTA is now entering the environmental study phase of the project. The agency has admitted that if it can’t find a workable solution for “the All Faiths problem,” the entire plan would be in jeopardy.
However, if they proceed with their initial proposal, it’s Middle Village that would be in jeopardy.