In response to “Belmont Park work to start in summer: NHL” (May 10).
With with 29 months left before the scheduled opening, LIRR improvements may not be completed in time to coincide with the promised fall 2021 opening of the Belmont Park Islanders Arena.
It is disappointing that Nassau County Executive Laura Curran can support this project with such a major issue remaining unresolved. In January 2018, former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota informed the Empire State Development Corporation that there is no current Penn Station capacity to support new Belmont Park service. He said his agency must first perform a planning study.
The study started in July with a promised completion date of September. The MTA recently shared this study with the ESDC in support of its environmental document. Why is there still an eight-month delay in making it public? They have yet to make a presentation to the monthly LIRR or full MTA committee board meetings. The MTA has never committed to a new schedule and date for release of the study. Continued delay could imply that both feasibility and costs have been found to be prohibitive.
Gov. Cuomo’s new $175 billion budget offers no funding. MTA claims the cost would be $300 million. MTA Long Island board member Mitchell Pally said the cost could be several hundred million. Newsday’s “The Point” reported a cost of between $100 million to $400 million. A New York Post editorial predicted a cost of $1 billion. Including funding in the upcoming MTA 2020-2024 Five Year Capital Plan would be too late for completion of LIRR work to support the promised Fall 2021 Belmont Islanders Arena opening.
Cuomo’s promise of significant increases in LIRR service to coincide with the Islander’s hockey team stadium opening in 2021 at Belmont Park continues to be unrealistic. Improvements to the Belmont Park LIRR Station and additional track interlockings to provide frequent service could take three to five years. You may just end up with shuttle service between Jamaica and Belmont Park LIRR stations. Moving the station directly on to the main line would still require construction of a new station, overpass and shuttle bus. The most difficult challenge will be providing full-time rush hour evening service. This may not be possible until both East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal begins in December 2022 and renovations to all four East River Tunnels are completed by 2032.
There is also the need for a bus terminal to accommodate Nassau Inter County Express, NYC Transit and private bus operators, who may establish new routes for serving Belmont Arena. Will upgrades to the existing Belmont Park LIRR Station include a bus terminal to accommodate NICE bus, NYC Transit bus, MTA bus and private bus charter operators?
Many future employees at the Belmont Park Islanders Arena’s hotel, retail, restaurants and conference center will be dependent upon bus service to access job opportunities. Using the Metro Card with a free transfer from the NYC Transit subway to NICE Bus would only cost $2.75. They ride the bus vs. more expensive LIRR fares. How is the Empire State Development Corporation planning for establishment of these future services? How will taxi, Uber, Lyft and other car services be accommodated? Will any potential future capital and service transportation improvements be paid for by the developer or MTA?
The Empire State Development Corporation project sponsor is following the state SEQUA and not the federal National Environmental Protection Act. Following NEPA is necessary to preserve eligibility for potential Federal Transit Administration funding opportunities to pay for any planned transportation improvements.
Will these funds appear within the future MTA 2020-2024 Five Year Capital Plan? The MTA has been working behind closed doors on this document. They first have to find the $4.3 billion needed to fully fund the $6 billion Second Avenue subway Phase 2, $1 billion to complete the $11.2 billion LIRR East Side Access and $600 million to complete the $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track along with NYC Transit President’s Andy Byfords proposed $38 billion accelerated NYC capital improvements program.
He calls it Fast Forward: The Plan to Modernize NYC Transit subway and bus system. This is looking for $19 billion under the next Five Year Capital Program. Some want billions to accelerate bringing more of the 471 subway stations into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Others want billions more to increase the numbers of new and rehabilitated subway cars and buses. Historically, these plans are adopted one year late. Funding for the future Belmont Park LIRR capital improvements might not be available until 2021.
(Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA, LIRR, NYC Transit, NYC DOT and NICE bus from 1983 – 2014)