Friday, 25 January 2013 00:00
The Long Island Index, a project of the Rauch Foundation, has issued its 2013 report, focusing on the future of the Long Island’ss Railroad and how the commuter line could aid the Island’s growth.
The report, titled “How the Long Island Rail Road Could Shape the Next Economy,” was prepared by the Regional Plan Association. The LIRR has been central to the growth and development of Long Island since it was chartered in 1834 and continues to play a crucial role in Long Island’s economy with 25 percent of local income coming from New York City jobs.
While many think of the railroad in terms of its ability to transport commuters between Long Island and New York City, this report highlights how the railroad can play a transformative role for the local economy and can have positive outcomes for all Long Islanders regardless of whether or not they are LIRR riders. It also clarifies that when new rail services are coupled with community revitalization efforts, significant transformations can occur that create new jobs and companies, access to new living spaces and, overall, a more robust local economy. Drawing on the successes of White Plains, N.Y. and South Orange, NJ, the report considers where Long Island might focus for similar growth.
Unlike neighbors in New Jersey and Westchester who have gained significant ridership over the last decade, to date the reach and capacity of the LIRR has remained unchanged since it first connected to Manhattan’s Penn Station in 1910. Now, for the first time in more than a century, the LIRR is poised to provide new capacity on its network. This year’s Long Island Index, is, therefore, focused on illuminating the opportunities and challenges that the LIRR provides, offering unbiased reliable data on which to base a broader public discussion, and encouraging that discussion of how best to maximize public transit’s potential for increasing Long Island’s economic vitality.
With new capacity, the railroad could lead a new era of economic growth for Long Island. By 2019, the East Side Access project will give LIRR riders direct access to Grand Central Terminal and east Midtown Manhattan, the densest concentration of jobs in the country. A second track from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma could be completed by 2018 and expand service options and reliability on one of the fastest growing yet most overcrowded lines in the system. Beyond these two projects, a deferred and long-debated project – a third track on the LIRR Main Line – has the potential to greatly improve service and support job growth within Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
Among the related findings revealed in the Long Island Index are the following:
· With East Side Access, nearly 400,000 homeowners in Nassau and Suffolk Counties will see the value of their homes rise by an average of $7,300.
· With expansion of the Ronkonkoma line to two tracks and the main line to three tracks, employers will have access to many more potential workers – at least 350,000 in Mineola and 226,000 in Hicksville, for example – increasing the attractiveness of Long Island to prospective employers. In addition, major economic development initiatives, such as Wyandanch Rising, the Ronkonkoma transit village project, and the Republic Airport hub would have a much greater chance of success.
· With expansion of the main line to three tracks, service reliability, efficiency and flexibility would be greatly improved, with 50 percent more capacity on the main line to reroute trains, move trains more easily between yards and stations, and add service as needed.
· With all three projects, Long Island’s economy would be in a much stronger position for future growth with faster access to jobs in New York City and greater ease of bringing New York City employees to new jobs on Long Island.
Projects of this magnitude necessarily come with costs and challenges.
The combined construction cost of the three projects is over $10 billion. East Side Access, with a cost of over $8 billion, represents the lion’s share of the capital costs. For East Side Access, the challenge is to complete the remaining construction, which includes the most complicated part of the project, on schedule. Local communities and the LIRR will also need to plan for changes in parking needs and traffic patterns.
“The Long Island Rail Road is one of Long Island’s most important and least understood regional assets,” said Nancy Rauch Douzinas, president of the Rauch Foundation. “The 2013 Long Island Index presents many of the facts that highlight the railroad’s potential, and it provides a guide to an important, open, and transparent discussion of the role of public transit in Long Island’s economy and future.”