Queens is growing fast—really fast. The World’s Borough has seen significant gains in population and in employment. To accommodate this continuing growth and alleviate the burdens it imposes on businesses and residents, our transportation options must improve, and quickly.
The Long Island Rail Road’s Lower Montauk branch, which runs 8.5 miles from Jamaica, through Maspeth and over to Long Island City, can be a source of relief and long-lasting economic growth. It is a rail line and public right-of-way owned by the MTA and capable of contributing to the economic expansion of every community alongside it.
A proposal dubbed QNS Rail calls for using the Lower Montauk line for commuter service. AECOM is doing an engineering study for the city’s Department of Transportation to determine QNS Rail’s feasibility and will present final findings this fall.
Public transportation in Queens is literally operating beyond its capacity. Among our few choices in mass transit lines, the 7 and E trains are the most utilized lines in the city. Beyond them, much of Queens is a transit desert, forcing people into cars. Streets are overrun by vehicles, and our buses are painstakingly slow.
Meanwhile, small business in the borough grows each year. A SmartAsset 2016 study showed 7.8% business growth in Queens, totaling over $7 billion. Further, businesses with five or fewer employees account for more than 65% of the borough’s new business growth over the last decade.
Simply put, we need relief. An environmentally sound commuter rail along the Lower Montauk branch would increase exposure for business owners and allow existing commercial operations to expand their customer bases.
The rail line had infrequent LIRR passenger service until 2012, and in 1996, New York & Atlantic began transporting freight along the line for just a few hours at night. But its potential is great, as the branch runs through Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Glendale, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Maspeth and Long Island City and connects to the LIRR mainline, the LIRR Bushwick branch and Sunnyside Yards. (See map, below.)
Long Island City and Jamaica are already on the rise. But Maspeth, a large business hub in the middle of this line, is particularly ripe for economic growth. Its M3 manufacturing zoning allows for the development of biotech industries. Biotech is a rapidly growing field and received nearly $6 billion in venture-capital funding in 2015—up 62% from 2014. As this industry continues to grow, Queens can accommodate and benefit from it.
To expand this industry and others in Queens, we need reliable, convenient public transportation. Examples across the country show show. Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass., was once a large industrial complex, similar to Maspeth, but declined around 30 years ago. Then it was renovated and rezoned to allow biotech, and now has more of it than all of New York and California. Tapping into Maspeth’s potential would benefit not only the local community but the city as a whole.
Right across the Hudson River, light rail has contributed to the revitalization of cities including Jersey City, Weehawken and Hoboken. Financial institutions such as Bank of America as well as law firms, education providers, retailers and others have planted roots in Jersey City since the light rail came to being.
The QNS Rail would run through the fastest growing residential, industrial and transit hubs in all of Queens. It would give more options for New Yorkers in need of more transit. It would enhance existing businesses and expand opportunities to others. It is in the best interest of our communities, our borough and our city to put this proposal on the fast track.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, D-Queens, represents Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Woodhaven and Woodside. Thomas Grech is the executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.