Transit Week

5 game-changing NYC transit projects to watch in 2017

By Virginia K. Smith | March 9, 2017 - 9:59AM 

While the MTA faces budget cuts and booming ridership—and struggles to finish planned upgrades such as countdown clocks—the transportation powers that be still have a number of high-profile new projects in the works over the next few years. (That might explain the fact that yet another fare hike is in store for straphangers later this month.)

Some are set to get up and running this year, while others are still in their ever-contentious planning phases. One way or the other, these are the five transportation projects you can expect to become hot topics in the city for the rest of 2017:

Expanded citywide ferry service

The ranks of New York's seafaring commuters are expected to swell this year, with the opening of the first phase of our new ferry routes scheduled for this summer, as Gothamist reported last year. The first expanded routes will add to the current East River Ferry service, and expand with stops servicing Far Rockaway, South Brooklyn, and Astoria, with further service to the Upper East Side, Lower East Side, and Soundview planned for 2018. You can see the full map of planned future routes below:

Rides are set to cost $2.75 for a one-way trip, with the cost of a monthly pass still to be determined. The boats are expected to have extras such as wifi and charging outlets, and Mayor Bill de Blasio said last spring, "It's going to be a commute like no other: fresh air, harbor views, and a fast ride on the open water."

The LaGuardia airport AirTrain 

The lack of reasonable transportation options to LaGuardia airport has been a sore point with New Yorkers—and New York tourists—for years. (Seriously, how is it possible that a major New York City airport is only accessible by bus??) This may finally be changing, though, as Governor Andrew Cuomo is throwing his weight behind a plan to work with the Port Authority to create a new LaGuardia AirTrain, which would connect to the LIRR and the 7 train at the Willets Point station in Queens. (You can see more details on the Governor's website, which recently put out a Request For Proposals from firms that might work on the AirTrain's construction, as well as larger plans to overhaul the entire airport.)

 Governor's Office

Governor's Office

The plan has faced heavy criticism, in part over concerns that Willets Point is a highly inconvenient location for most New Yorkers, as well as concerns that the AirTrain wouldn't be any faster than the bus; would add even more congestion to the already-overcrowded 7 train; and would cost huge amounts of money that's badly needed elsewhere in the city's struggling infrastructure. (The Village Voice in particular has been vocal in their opposition to the plan on multiple occasions.) Nevertheless, Cuomo has said he expects to have the AirTrain up and running by 2023, so stay tuned for construction news—and, most likely, a number of public arguments on the subject.

The Brooklyn-Queens-connector streetcar

Another project that's already plagued by plenty of controversy: the BQX, or Brooklyn-Queens-Connector, the streetcar tentatively planned to link the East River waterfronts of Brooklyn and Queens. The idea would be to connect a 16-mile stretch between Sunset Park and Astoria that's currently difficult to traverse on the Manhattan-centric subway system, with stops in between in Red Hook, Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Greenpoint, and Long Island City. You can see a tentative map below:

Though the lack of transport options between Brooklyn and Queens has been an issue ever since the removal of the old trolley system, critics have bashed the BQX as a pet project of developers who hope that it will spur gentrification in the connected neighborhoods. (Indeed, the New York Daily News has reported that developers have been donating quite generously to the $2.5 billion project.)

While the cost of a streetcar trip will be the same as a city subway ride, it's still TBD whether or not transfers to the subway or bus will be available to riders—another big sticking point for critics—and whether the streetcar will specifically connect to any subway stations, as DNAinfo reported. The project isn't expected to be completed until 2024, with construction not even getting underway until 2019, but with community meetings still planned to address concerns and tweak the potential routes, expect the BQX to make plenty of headlines over the coming year.

Phase 2 of the Second Avenue subway 

While the new year's opening of the Second Avenue subway on the Upper East Side was a full century in the making, city residents and officials have already moved onto the next question: What's going on with Phase 2? The second part of the project, which will extend up to East Harlem between 96th and 125th streets, isn't even slated to begin tunneling until after 2019, and a set timeline and budget have not been released yet, as AM NY reports. However, the capital plan for 2015 to 2019 currently allocates $1 billion towards the project, and Representative Carolyn Maloney said in January that the Trump administration has explicitly added Phase 2 to a list of national infrastructure priorities, with $14.2 billion in federal funding expected for phases two and three.

As with a number of the other projects on this list, the Second Avenue subway has drawn criticism for excessive use of precious MTA funds. However, exactly how much funding it will require—and if we'll be looking at another century-long delay—still seems to be up in the air.

The L train shutdown—and proposed East River gondola

Speaking of "up in the air," may we interest you in a gondola ride over the East River? Though it's an expensive, difficult project that's unlikely to come to fruition, the East River Skyway is just one of the solutions being rather frantically proposed in the run up to the so-called "L-pocalypse," when the L train shuts down in 2019 for two years of Sandy-related repairs. Service on the train should continue as normal for the next two years, but in the interim, there will be a two-month shutdown of the nearby M train this summer, part of the repair work necessary to prepare the line for a heavy influx of new commuters from the L once it's down.

As for the L itself, groups such as the L Train Coalition are watching the city's plans closely (and weighing in at a series of community meetings that are being held on the topic, and will continue through the summer). The MTA is expected to release a preliminary plan for the shutdown this spring, Curbed reports, and among other solutions, is mulling express bus service from North Brooklyn into the city, as well as proposals for a car-free 14th Street for the duration of the shutdown. And while real estate prices aren't likely to dip just yet, expect to see more developers in the area offer amenities such as shuttle buses to soothe concerned of worried renters and buyers as 2019 draws closer.


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