There is no doubt that establishing Metro North Commuter Railroad services through The Bronx into Penn Station is the most cost effective, and perhaps the most important capital project that the MTA has yet to embark upon.
Indeed, we know that subway lines reaching into The Bronx during the decade of the 1920’s, transported 530,000 people uptown for the first time. Now, as we enter the 21st century, Metro North’s proposal to enter Penn Station has the potential of creating a similar wave of prosperity and growth, not only for the East Bronx, but for our entire borough and, in fact, the entire metropolitan region.
My office joins Metro North Railroad in supporting the use of existing track infrastructure to provide rail transportation to approximately 160,000 Bronx residents living within one mile of four key locations:
- Co-op City-a community of roughly 60,000 people
- Morris Park-a community of 14,600 residents, plus approximately 4,000 people working at Hutchinson Metro-Tech and the Einstein Medical School campuses. Soon to be open as well will be a major hotel serving tourists and professionals.
- Parkchester/Van Nest-a community of 40,000 residents, many of whom are condominium owners
- Hunts Point-a community of approximately 46,000 people plus home to the city’s largest food distribution market, doing approximately $2 billion in business annually.
In addition to the obvious benefits Bronx residents would realize by having access to Manhattan in less than 40 minutes; so too for the first time Bronxites could reach suburban employment centers without reliance on a car. This fact will not only mean fewer vehicles on our roads, but for those unable to drive, an entirely new employment market is made accessible. Similarly, commuters from Westchester and Fairfield Counties will have one-seat rail service to Manhattan’s west side, thereby saving the time and cost now made necessary when having to transfer to subway services at Grand Central Terminal.
All in all, thousands of commuting hours and hundreds of fuel gallons will be saved, making this a considerably “green” project as well. This is all accomplished without the need to construct a single tunnel or excavate an urban street. Rather, it is realized by making better use of what we have had in place in the East Bronx for over 100 years: the Hell Gate Tracks to Penn Station.
In May 2012 my office, in conjunction with State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, issued a report on the economic benefits Metro North’s East Bronx rail plan would yield. Even as it is anticipated that property and home values will increase, highlights of this report indicate the potential to create 5,400 new jobs and over $1.5 billion in new business development.
As noted by Governor Andrew Cuomo in his 2014 “State of the State” address, the resiliency of our transportation system requires that we provide alternative routes in and out of our central business district. The Hell Gate route, which will serve the East Bronx, will do exactly that. In short, what is now being constructed for Long Island Railroad commuters via East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal, would also be available to Metro North riders via East Bronx railroad services to Penn Station.
When measured by the benefits gained, including a storm resilient system, an entirely new transportation option for the East Bronx, one-seat transportation to Manhattan’s west side for Westchester and Fairfield county commuters, less overcrowding on our city’s subways and thousands of new employment opportunities, coupled with an enormous increase in business sales; an approximate investment of $800 million necessary to make this all real shows that this proposal is extremely cost efficient.
Once this new system is in place railroad transportation between Fairfield, Westchester and Bronx Counties, through Penn Station to points in New Jersey becomes a genuine possibility. It is for these reasons that transportation planners have long advocated for the unification of our massive existing railroad and subway infrastructure. Therefore, providing the necessary financial support for this project is imperative and must be our top priority.
In conclusion, if The Bronx, indeed, the entire region served by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), is to realize its full potential both as a place to live and as a place of commerce, we must reconsider those visionaries who one century ago gave us what we still use today—a massive well designed and amazingly comprehensive system of railroads and subways. It is now up to us to not only improve upon this inheritance, but also to appreciate how they knew, even before one rail was installed or tunnel dug, how their system would transform our city and our region. So now, together let us create something new by using something old and making it work for the next 100 years.