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Editorial January 22, 2015  RSS feed

Times Newsweekly EDITORIAL

Let’s Rebuild Queens!

Figuring out how to spend a $5 billion windfall sounds like a nice problem to have, and in New York State, it’s a hotly-contested debate.

From property tax decreases to increased education funding, it seems everybody has a bright idea on how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars the state received last year through settlements reached with financial institutions over regulation violations and other misdeeds.

In a very encouraging sign, Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined on Tuesday, Jan. 20, a host of infrastructure projects—including a proposed AirTrain line to LaGuardia Airport—paid for in part with the settlement funds. But we think the governor and the state could go even further in funding projects that make it easier to navigate this borough and city.

Our coverage area alone could use about $200 million to move forward on several long-delayed city street improvement projects.

We’ve covered in the past the troubles at the Grand Street Bridge over the Newtown Creek between Maspeth and East Williamsburg. The narrow, 110-year-old span can’t accommodate two passing big rigs in the heart of an industrial area, causing delays on either side. Moreover, the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) closed the bridge many Saturdays last year for patchwork repairs to the deck and sidewalk.

Replacing the Grand Street Bridge would cost about $70 million, and the project has been delayed until about 2024 for myriad reasons. Reportedly, engineers are redesigning the replacement plans to reflect flood zone changes following Hurricane Sandy two years ago. Meanwhile, commuters and businesses will continue to suffer with delays and closures—and given its deteriorated shape, the bridge itself will be lucky to survive the decade.

Then there’s the proposed reconstruction of roadbeds, sewer mains and curbs in southern Middle Village. First proposed in the 1990s, the city also delayed this project until about 2020 due to financial constraints. Many streets in this area haven’t even been repaved in years as a result of questions regarding when, or if, this project will start.

Similarly, there’s the Wyckoff Avenue reconstruction project, also perennially delayed due to city funding cuts. The multi-million plan includes replacing sewer and water mains and the roadbed along the full length of Wyckoff Avenue between Flushing and Cooper avenues in Ridgewood and Bushwick; various side streets would also be improved.

If the state gave the city between $75 and $100 million for these projects, residents and businesses would benefit with more reliable sewer and water mains, smoother streets and improved streetscapes. It would improve property values and attract new residents and businesses into the area, leading to increased tax revenue for the state and city. Who wouldn’t want that?

Of course, there are even larger-scale projects around Queens just waiting to happen. As Governor Cuomo looks to link LaGuardia by rail, he should also seek to revitalize rail service on the long-defunct Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach branch and cut the QueensWay.

The state recently gave the QueensWay proponents thousands of dollars toward its effort, but Queens residents desperately need a train alternative to get around. Why turn the Rockaway Beach branch into parkland when its location alone provides the opportunity to build a oneseat, direct rail link between John F. Kennedy International Airport and midtown Manhattan?

Most every other major metropolis in the U.S. has a direct transit link between its primary airport and its downtown except the one city that needs it the most: New York City.

Building a JFK-Manhattan train line via the Rockaway Beach branch won’t be cheap—it will cost several billion dollars, and federal aid will be needed—but this project is far more necessary to the city’s economic viability than a nature trail and bike path. Expensive, lengthy cab rides on traffic-filled expressways are a terrible greeting to the tourists our city so heavily relies upon for income.

Let’s get serious about Queens infrastructure. Hey Governor Cuomo, can you spare us a billion?