Kathy Hochul announces ‘next phase’ of Brooklyn-Queens transit link

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to build a public transit link between Brooklyn and Queens picked up steam Thursday as she released an initial MTA study into the project.

Under the framework, an underutilized 14-mile freight line would be converted into a new “Interborough Express” service connecting neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens.

“I am so excited to announce that we have finished the feasibility study,” Hochul said during a press conference at the Brooklyn terminus of the proposed line. “And what that does is launch the next phase.”

“We know we have a path forward, and it starts with the completion of the feasibility study that I’m announcing right now,” she said.

Backed by local politicians like Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, the long-floated new commuter service would run from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to Jackson Heights in Queens, snaking through Borough Park, East Flatbush, Bushwick, Ridgewood and Maspeth on the way.

Gov. Kathy Hochul released an initial MTA study into her plan to build a public transit link between Brooklyn and Queens.
Paul Martinka

Much of Queens and Brooklyn are difficult and time-consuming to travel to from each other, as many trips between the two boroughs require bus and subway transfers and traveling to Manhattan.

“The Interborough Express is a project that has a potential to provide much-needed transit access in Brooklyn and Queens,” said US Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who represents Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The Regional Plan Association-supported transit project was included earlier this month in Hochul’s first state of the state address, when she told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to perform an assessment and identify the best transit option for the corridor — heavy rail, light rail or bus rapid transit.

Now, the MTA will launch another feasibility study, complete with an extensive public outreach process, to decide on what mode of transit would be used for the proposal, Hochul said.

Hochul noted that “we don’t have answers” yet on what option will work best.

MTA Chair Janno Lieber said the potential construction could take about three to five years.
Paul Martinka

The planned line would connect residents and workers to the Long Island Rail Road and 17 subway lines, the governor has said. The Interborough Express would serve roughly 129,000 residents who make daily trips within or across Brooklyn and Queens as well as 85,000 commuters who work in Manhattan, she has announced.

MTA Chair Janno Lieber told reporters Thursday the transit line would have a price tag in the “single-digit billions of dollars,” and construction would take between three and five years after a roughly two-year federal environmental review.

“We are doing a federally compliant environmental review because we want to make sure it can be eligible for federal money — because the federal money is starting to flow,” he explained.

A map of the proposed Interboro Railroad released by the MTA.
A map of the proposed transit link released by the MTA on Jan. 5, 2022.

“For a project of this complexity and scale, to have that right-of-way to work with right off the bat is an unbelievable head start and we’re going to make use of it,” said Lieber.

Also Thursday, the MTA provided a 21-page presentation that laid out the potential project in additional details in response to a Freedom of Information request from The Post — notable both for what it included and what it left out. 

It presented three potential versions of the new service: subway-like commuter rail trains running alongside freight service; a rail service that would be separated from the freight service and use trolley-like trains likely powered by overhead wires; or dedicated right-of-way for buses.

Currently, just up to three freight trains use the route every day, but the MTA preserved space for future cargo service in line with Nadler’s decades-long intention to build a tunnel between Brooklyn and New Jersey.

The MTA says those requirements mean that segments of the route through Brooklyn would need to be elevated above the freight tracks due to safety requirements if it pursued either the light rail or busway options. Heavier commuter trains must meet federal requirements to run alongside freight trains.

The document does not include an exact cost of the project or a timeline for it, but elevating portions of the route would likely dramatically increase the price and add time to construction.

Kathy Hochul
Gov. Hochul’s transit plan has received praise from some local politicians.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

If completed, the project would mean faster trips directly between boroughs without a stop in Manhattan, with the light-rail trams and buses speeding between Jackson Heights and Bay Ridge in just 40 minutes or less. The heavier trains running alongside freight would take at least 45 minutes to complete the trip.

Local politicians praised Hochul for getting the project out of the station.

“For far too many Queens families and communities, the inability to travel between boroughs in a quick and efficient manner has been an unnecessary detriment to the economic health, and quite frankly, ability to grow,” said Richards, a former city councilman representing parts of southeast Queens. “By transforming these existing freight lines, connecting Bay Ridge and Jackson Heights … we can now connect thousands of families in each borough all while cutting commute times.”

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso thanked the governor for “following through” and “not hesitating” to move the project forward.

“That is a rare thing, when it comes to transportation infrastructure,” he said.