Why is the Long Island Rail Road Belmont Park Arena transportation improvements study still missing in action? 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 that his agency must first perform a planning study. The study was started in July with a September completion date. Why has there been a delay in making it public? Results from this study should identify a path for schedule, budget, funding sources and operational service changes to proceed with future steps of design, engineering and construction.
Belmont Park service has to compete against current scheduled service, future new Port Washington branch service from Mets Willets Point LaGuardia Air Train, additional reverse commute and Ronkonkoma rush hour service along with other LIRR, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and Metro North trains for Penn Station platform and track space via the East River Tunnels. There is also future Grand Central Terminal access, in coming years upon completion of East Side Access.
Almost two months has come and gone but no final reports have been made public. Not even a presentation at the November MTA and LIRR monthly board committee meetings. The MTA and LIRR remain silent as to any new schedule and date for release of either documents. Continued delay in release of the study could imply that both feasibility and costs have been found to be prohibitive. MTA Long Island board member Mitchell Pally said that the cost could be several hundred million. Newsday’s “The Point” recently reported a cost of between $100 to $400 million. There is no way to know if these estimated costs may be even higher without access to the study. Neither the developer, Empire State Development Corporation or MTA may be able to agree on the overall costs and share for improvements. There may also be technical and operational service issues preventing implementing LIRR improvements to coincide with the Islanders promised 2021 opening date. There is now less than three years to complete all of this work. The longer the MTA sits on the study, the greater the odds some consultants along with MTA and LIRR staff are staying up late trying to wordsmith the report so as to downplay the bad news.
Neighbors, commuters, taxpayers as well as those who support or oppose the Islanders Belmont Arena deserve to see the full contents of this study today. Governor Cuomo promises open transparency for all state agencies and authorities including both the MTA and Empire State Development Corporation. It is time for the MTA and LIRR to come clean!
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