2016-05-11 / Front Page

Sunnyside Yards

To The Editor:
There is more to “Van Bramer, Community Protest No Train Noise” (Thomas Cogan, May 4). Residents of Sunnyside, Woodside and other neighborhoods bordering the MTA Long Island Rail Road East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal project construction zone and future service area may have legitimate concerns for adverse environmental impacts and the missing future new Sunnyside Yard LIRR Station.
As part of the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration New Starts process, the MTA had to comply with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement as part of NEPA resulted in a Record of Decision by USDOT FTA in May 2001 which allowed the project to proceed. Completion of the NEPA process included commitments by the MTA for a number of remedial environmental activities, including noise mitigation along portions of the project that would impact adjacent area residents. Once service begins, both the frequency and number of trains will increase 24/7.
Since 2001, the total direct cost for MTA LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal has grown from $3.5 billion to $4.3 billion in 2003, $6.3 billion in 2006, $8.4 billion in 2012 to $10.8 billion in 2014. Don’t be surprised when they announce that it has grown to $11 or $12 billion. They should have included sufficient funding for both remedial environmental activities and construction of the Sunnyside Yards Station.
The original Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) between the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was approved in December 2006. The $2.63 billion of Federal Grant funding remains unchanged (virtually all of which has already been spent) with the MTA as local sponsor having to cover the $6 billion in cost overruns. The $2.5 billion that has been programmed in the proposed MTA 2015 - 2019 Five Year Capital Plan (which still needs approval by the State Capital Program Review Board) is to cover a portion of these cost overruns. Additional funding from $1 billion or more will be needed in the next 2020 - 2024 Five Year Capital Plan to cover the balance of funding necessary to complete this project. The FFGA will have to be amended ten years later in 2016 to reflect the current true cost and schedule.
Few remember that in 1998 as part of the proposed MTA LIRR Eastside Access project, construction of a passenger station was considered for Sunnyside Yard. It would provide access to the growing Long Island City business and residential district. Fast forward 18 years to today. The MTA proudly announced several months ago that they have awarded the last Eastside Access construction contract. Since no contract has ever been awarded for the new Sunnyside Yard LIRR Station (that was to be built at Queens Blvd. and Skillman Avenue), you have to wonder if this was deleted from the project scope. One trick used by transit managers to complete any project within budget, is to drop a portion of the original work. This saves the necessary dollars which were not available to deliver 100% of what was originally promised. Is this an attempt to reduce the overall project cost by $400 million?
There has been incredible residential and commercial growth in neighborhoods adjacent to Sunnyside Yard. Imagine the benefits to both residents and commuters if this station is built. The same would be true for noise barriers. Consider the possible travel options if a Metro North connection from the New Haven line via the Bronx and Hell Gate Bridge to Grand Central Terminal reached beneficial use along with LIRR Eastside Access in 2023 and both provided service to a Sunnyside Yard station. There are still eight more years for the MTA to get this right.
Larry Penner
Great Neck

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