Manhattan lawmaker pushes for LIRR station in western Queens
Sheila Lewandowski, center, Rep Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) and other community activists make a plea for Sunnyside Yards in New York as a part of the MTA's East Side Access plan. Photo Credit: Newsday/Howard Simmons
A federal lawmaker is calling on the MTA to make good on a promise made two decades ago to build a Long Island Rail Road station in western Queens as part of the agency’s long-delayed East Side Access megaproject.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) joined activists in Queens on Monday to urge the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to advance plans to construct a Sunnyside Station. She said Long Island City’s booming population and development, including a proposal by Amazon to build offices there, have heightened the need for the station.
“It is an outrage that we don’t have this built already,” Maloney said. “The infrastructure is not keeping up with the growth of the area. It is becoming a crisis.”
The MTA included plans for a Sunnyside Station in its original proposal for East Side Access, the $11.2 billion effort to link the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal via newly bored tunnels.
But as East Side Access, which once was scheduled for completion in 2009, has been delayed, so too has been the prospect of Sunnyside Station. The MTA originally earmarked about $77 million in its 2015-19 Capital Program to design and begin construction on the station, but last year reallocated the funds to cover other growing costs, including the latest budget overrun for East Side Access.
At the time, the MTA said the station work was “anticipated to be included in future capital programs.” The MTA has not estimated the full cost of building a station in Sunnyside. In 2001 — well before the community’s recent population boom — the LIRR projected 2,255 commuters would use Sunnyside Station daily.
In project documents, MTA officials have said opening the station, which was originally proposed to be located at Queens Boulevard and Skillman Avenue, before East Side Access is complete “would not be operationally feasible” because stopping trains there would “create an unacceptable logjam” at the busy Harold Interlocking in Queens. Once East Side Access is complete, some trains would use another route to and from Manhattan, freeing up capacity at Harold.
East Side Access is scheduled for completion in late 2022.
Also complicating plans for a new station is a separate proposal, by Amtrak and New York City Economic Development Corp., to construct a residential and commercial development on top of Amtrak’s rail yard in Sunnyside, near where an LIRR station would be located.
“As NYCEDC and Amtrak develop a Master Plan for a potential overbuild of Sunnyside Yards, the MTA is working with them to ensure that options for a station can be pursued without compromising future LIRR service or operations,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said Monday.
Supporters of the new station urged the MTA to prioritize it in its next five-year Capital Program, which is expected to be released later this year and include more than $40 billion in infrastructure investments. They noted that, in addition to helping Queens residents commute to and from jobs in Manhattan, the station also would serve a growing number of riders with less-traditional commutes, including to and from Long Island.
“It is no longer just a commute in and out of Manhattan,” said Sheila Lewandowski, a member of Community Board 2 in Long Island City. “We need our station. We need it for visitors. We need it for our businesses … We need it for the residents.”