Plans for a new light rail line on the North Shore of Staten Island have received strong support from Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro (R) and various members of New York’s congressional delegation including Senator Charles Schumer (D) and former-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), as well as the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation. The proposed five mile route would cost $360 million, with funding coming from federal, state and local agencies. The route would run along an old rail line and could potentially cut commute times between Arlington and St. George by half, according to a preliminary study released by the Borough President’s Office . The study also estimated that the light rail would serve between 10-15,000 people and reduce the number of cars on the road by up to 7,500. Other proposed plans include routing the railway down Richmond Avenue and through several neighborhoods, or putting the light rail in the medians of the highways leading from the Bayonne Bridge to Richmond Valley. Construction is expected to be complete by 2020.
There are also plans for a $1 billion West Shore Light Rail that would extend the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system over the Bayonne Bridge and into western and southern portions of Staten Island and connect to Staten Island Railroad service at the Richmond Valley Station. The West Shore Light Rail Phase II Study is due out in 2009. It will assess the feasibility, benefits, impacts and costs of developing light rail transit serving Staten Island communities, as a way to address present and future traffic congestion and reliability problems, which are expected to worsen in the future. While identifying a preferred alignment and set of stations, phasing service implementation and using express bus services in conjunction with light rail will be explored.
In 2008, Senator Schumer requested an earmark of $4 million in order to conduct a feasibility study for the North Shore project. The earmark request, however, was not included by the Senate Appropriations Committee in their Fiscal Year 2008 budget. $220,500 had already been allocated for the study, but it was to be split with the ongoing West Shore Light Rail study. Additionally, in July 2008 both the North Shore and West Shore light rails were left off of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s lists of projects to receive federal funding.
In August 2008, $3.5 million in funding for an analysis of the North Shore rail line was secured through a deal between then-MTA Chairman Elliot Sander and Molinaro. Molinaro promised to finance new hybrid buses for State Island, and in exchange, Sander promised to pay for the analysis. Parsons Brinckerhoff was chosen as the consultant team for the land use and transportation study in November 2008. The consultants released its market analysis in February 2009, recommending that short- and long-term infrastructure investments were critical to Staten Island’s growth.
In mid-July of 2009, Molinaro announced that a consultant for another study, a Transportation Alternatives analysis, would be selected shortly. The analysis, which is expected to take 2 years, will determine whether it is best to operate buses or a light rail (or another option such as heavy rail) along the North Shore route. Its completion will enable the project to seek federal funding for the recommended construction.