December 27, 2012
By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska
QUEENS — Queens is one step closer to getting its own High Line.
A plan to transform 3.5 miles of abandoned railroad tracks into an elevated public park similar to the one in Manhattan just got a boost thanks to a $467,000 grant from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, The Trust for Public Land announced.
The money will go toward a feasibility study and analysis of the QueensWay project, which would turn the train tracks, defunct for the past 50 years, into a “Queens High Line.”
“Now other people recognized that potentially this could be a great project for Queens,” said Andrea Crawford, a member of Friends of the QueensWay, after the grant was announced. “Now it has real teeth and we are really excited.”
The study will begin in January or February and will take six to eight months to complete, said Marc Matsil, New York State director for the Trust for Public Land.
The organization, which has been involved in similar projects in other parts of the country, including Chicago, Santa Fe, N.M. and New Paltz, N.Y., joined forces with local supporters of the project about a year ago.
The analysis will include engineering and environmental components. It will check the structural integrity of the tracks and test soil and groundwater.
The study will also estimate the cost of turning the tracks into a public park.
“Once the study is complete, we can go out and try to raise the money for construction,” said Travis Terry, from Friends of the QueensWay.
The derelict Rockaway Line connects Forest Hills and Rego Park with Forest Park and the neighborhoods of Richmond Hill and Ozone Park.
Matsil said that the project would add much-needed green space to the city and make biking in the area easier.
“It’s incredibly difficult to bike on the streets and [cross] some of the avenues to get to Forest Park,” he said. “It is rare in the city to be able to get on the bike path and ride unobstructed
or walk or roller skate unobstructed for 3.5 miles.”
The QueensWay supporters also hope to build a “Cultural Greenway,” highlighting the more than 100 ethnic groups that live in Queens.
“We want to celebrate that cultural diversity through temporary art installations,” Matsil said.
A portion of the land, which is owned by New York City, could be used for a sculpture garden or a venue for performances and cultural exhibits, advocates said.
Another idea is to engage local ethnic restaurants into the project. Matsil said that in places where the path is wide, eateries could install their food stands, serving a variety of cuisines, from South American to Asian.
The Trust for Public Land has already reached out to Queens cultural institutions seeking support and collaboration, including The Queens Museum of Art and The Noguchi Museum, Matsil said. The group has also discussed the project with the Queens Chamber of Commerce.
The Rockaway rail line opened in 1877 but its ridership declined after a fire in 1950. It was finally closed in 1962 and has since become home to little more than weeds, trash and graffiti.
The QueensWay project faces opposition from groups like the Rockaway Transit Coalition and elected officials including Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder who want to reactivate the train service.