MTA Announces Updates on Interborough Express

A man sits at a table wearing a gray suit and blue tie. A nameplate reading "Michael J. Shiffer" is placed in front of him.

MTA senior vice president of regional planning Michael Shiffer at the town hall event.

By Carmo Moniz |

The Metropolitan Transit Authority recently shared an update on its proposed Interborough Express, a train line that will run between Jackson Heights and Bay Ridge.

While the project is still in its early stages, MTA officials explained the train line’s current status and next steps in a town hall this past Wednesday. 

The last update on the $5.5 billion project was in January, when the MTA decided on a light rail system for the line. MTA senior vice president of regional planning Michael Shiffer said that it could still be years before the agency breaks ground on the project at the meeting.

“We’re still very early in this process,” Shiffer said. “I don’t want to leave you with a sense that this thing is going to be done within a year or two, it’s going to take a while.”

The project will remain eligible for federal funding by undergoing an environmental review, which takes two years to complete, but the government could still decide against advancing it after the review is finished. Shiffer said the project’s advancement is also dependent on the space available in the MTA’s 2025-29 Capital Plan. 

With the light rail option, the trip from one end of the line to the other is estimated to take around 39 minutes. The line could operate with as few as five minutes between trains, according to Shiffer.

a graphic showing the proposed Interborough Express stations between Roosevelt Avenue and Brooklyn Army Terminal.

A graphic from the MTA’s presentation.

The infrastructure for the train line already partially exists, and had been used to carry passengers until it was designated for freight-only use in 1924. While some of the infrastructure for the project is already in place due to the old line, new stations, tracks and other modifications will need to be added. Among these changes are 45 bridges that need to be built. 

Shiffer said that the MTA has asked the public for their input on where the stations should be, and has seen more than 1,000 people make suggestions for station locations. There are currently 19 proposed stations, including at Brooklyn Army Terminal, Atlantic Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue stations, but Shiffer said these could change as the project develops.

“The early sense was that this really hits the mark on so many of these targets that it certainly got the attention of the public, it’s had the attention of the public for quite some time,” Shiffer said. “The governor, as well as a lot of key planners throughout the region, and leaders saw that this may be a promising project, and so that’s why we’re doing the work we’re doing now to better understand how it could support our region.”

Larry Penner, a former transit employee and a transit advocate, said he thinks the IBX may struggle to hold the MTA’s attention due to other projects in the next Capital Plan.

“Everyone has their dreams,” Penner said. “It was a nice public relations news release, and they had the public outreach, which was nice, but the proof of the pudding will be when they actually start the environmental impact statement process.”

The next step for the project will be the “scoping” phase of the environmental review process, where the design and surroundings of the line will be under closer scrutiny, according to Shiffer.

“That’s where you come in handy because we need you, we need your support and we need your engagement,” Shiffer said. “We need you to explain to us some of the key constraints and things that the designers, the planners and the engineers need to be aware of, from a community perspective.”

Op-Ed: Double down MTA, Queens needs more trains

By Juan Ardila, Assembly District 37 Elect

QNS rendering via Friends of the QNS.

Give credit where credit is due with the Interborough Express proposed by Gov. Hochul: For a governor to finally take notice of an underused freight-rail line running from Brooklyn into Queens, and pushing to convert that line to passenger rail, is an idea whose time has finally come.

The IBX, as proposed, would run 14 miles through these two boroughs without going through Manhattan. The governor and the MTA, in other words, are taking a real interest in helping all New Yorkers with their daily commute, and not just those traveling to Manhattan.

Moving away from Manhattan-centered planning is what Queens and the outer boroughs have long deserved, and addressing the mass transit needs of some of our long-marooned communities simply makes sense.

Converting this long right-of-way from freight to commuter rail, as opposed to asking the MTA to build out entirely new and expensive infrastructure, is cost-effective.

It also makes environmental sense as it helps to alleviate our city’s dependence on automobiles, which currently crowd our streets and highways.

Lastly, it makes economic sense, because the city benefits when more people have better mass-transit access to jobs, schools and other essential places like daycares and hospitals.

But I implore the governor and the MTA: Don’t stop there. Keep going and double down by revisiting the QNS plan, a recently studied proposal to reactivate and repurpose freight rail along the Lower Montauk Branch which runs through central Queens and can connect Long Island City to nearby neighborhoods like Maspeth, Ridgewood, Middle Village — all the way to Jamaica.

The governor can help us make Queens, the MTA’s most underserved borough after Staten Island, the sort of inter-connected, environmentally friendly, economic powerhouse it was meant to be.

The IBX and the QNS lines are also remarkably similar. Both are publicly owned right-of-ways that have been used sparingly for years by freight-rail companies.

Both can be converted comparatively cheaply, by infrastructure-expense standards, to include passenger service, sharing the same space with freight.

Passenger service can run during the day and freight can run in the off-hours. The QNS would be 90 percent less expensive to build out per mile than the Second Ave. subway plan by comparison.

Moreover, both the IBX plan and the QNS both call for a planned stop at Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village, which could turn this growing neighborhood into a mass transportation hub.

If both lines are built, a 14-mile line would have 23 miles of new interconnectivity. This would be groundbreaking for those who live along these lines.

Right now, many of the areas where the unused QNS line lies are commonly referred to as transit deserts. What’s it like to live in a transit desert? I happen to know because I live in Maspeth. I can walk faster than most of the local buses through my neighborhood. People around here own cars out of necessity, not as a luxury. That’s not how New Yorkers should live.

This is no charity request either. Queens’ population has been exploding in recent decades.

Long Island City is one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in all of America, period, while neighborhoods like Ridgewood and Jamaica are only getting more populated.

Neighborhoods along the QNS line are home to thousands of workers from all trades who are looking for better ways to get around. Approximately 95,000 existing jobs and three of NYC’s most important industrial business zones lie within a half-mile of the QNS line, so if both the IBX and the QNS are built, those workers will have a real chance of finding better jobs across the entire region with greater access to mass transportation.

What’s more, the nonprofit advocacy group Friends of the QNS, which has been promoting reactivating the Lower Montauk line for more than half a decade, has spent this summer working with a bicycle advocacy group here in Queens to promote a greenway that could be added alongside the train line.

The DOT and the MTA should review these proposals, because, despite all the pressures and complaints from drivers about congestion and parking, we have to find a way to share our city with bikes and other alternative forms of transportation.

I was glad to see that the QNS line was included in the MTA’s list of ideal projects in its 20-year Needs Assessment report (a 2018 DOT feasibility report has already made it clear that the proposal is feasible).

Rather than simply adding it onto a long list of to-do projects that may never get done, let’s make this one happen.

OP-ED: LGA Renovations and the AirTrain

By Richard Khuzami, president of the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association

The Old Astoria Neighborhood Association has had the opportunity to weigh in on the Renovation of the LGA Airport since the beginning of the process, and we have been greatly impressed by the results.

We now have a world class facility, which helps Queens and NYC look towards a future with positive economic and quality of life growth for all.

What still needs to be addressed is the logistics of efficient and quick movement of passengers to and from LGA. To this end, the Airtrain light rail was proposed, questioned, and is now being readdressed.

Our position has been consistent. We are in favor of using the existing JFK Airtrain Hub in Jamaica.

Important aspects to consider:

Ridership should be the primary concern. All the other issues all point back to the effect on ridership. The more people that have direct access to the light rail network the better. This is a holistic system for the entire region! Not just North and West Queens, or the UES of Manhattan.

OANA prefers the hub at Jamaica because the largest number of subway lines (A, E, J, Z) can feed the system, both branches of the LIRR intersect, and new possibilities for air connections can be realized, with reliable transit between airports. If a stop is included at Willets Point, then the 7-line can be included.

This would have the added advantage of using existing monorail cars, maintenance, and storage facilities of the JFK Airtrain.

Another advantage: Individuals who reside around LGA airport – such as Western Queens communities like Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Flushing – should be provided access to the Airtrain. This way they can be provided a viable direct public service to JFK, avoiding the traffic mess at the Van Wyck. And the same for residents around JFK Airport going to LGA.

The other hubs that the MTA has mentioned in this survey do not have all the connections of Jamaica, especially between airports. Therefore, we prefer Jamaica.
Many locals have focused on extending the “N” line. However, the N does not service Penn Station or Grand Central Station directly, people with luggage would have to deal with the 59th st station, with its many stairs, and the LIRR does not intersect. The “N” would only be good for local residents of Astoria and the UES and those who live directly on the N line; No one else in the city. Also, it would have to deal with the infrastructure of the Botany Bay Water Treatment Plant. And eminent domain would probably have to be utilized.

From our standpoint the only way the N would be viable is if the IBX connected with the N line, greatly expanding its network. However, as you may know, current plans for the IBX exclude Astoria and the N line. It ends in Jackson Heights. We strongly want IBX service to Astoria, and if provided we would reconsider N service to LGA.
We are strongly in favor of Ferry service to the Marine Air Terminal at LGA. However, in general, we need to make sure that all ferry landings have first and last-mile capabilities, for instance, shuttle service. We would also like to see another landing at the north side of Hallets Peninsula, where it could be used as a transfer between the Astoria Line and the LGA line and other northern stops.

While not as important at the Marine Air Terminal, because of existing inter-terminal shuttles, all other landings throughout the Ferry system must have a connection to other local public transit. This is well beyond just an airport issue. This is an existential need for the long-term viability of the ferry system.

Also: for both the ferry and light rail, it might be interesting to provide check-in and boarding instructions onboard to allow for more seamless movement of passengers when in the airport itself.

We have the opportunity to create a world-class transit system in NYC and the surrounding area. Let’s make sure we take advantage.

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