During a May 19th virtual town hall, the MTA updated the status of the Interborough Express, a proposed 14 mile transit line from Bay Ridge to Jackson Heights. It would leverage an existing freight roadbed to connect 17 subway lines and the LIRR as it traverses transit deserts in southeastern Brooklyn.

The Bay Ridge Line “Cut” Near E 15th Street: Only One Track

The big news is that the Port Authority still wants to build a modern freight line on the same Cut, dubbed the Cross Harbor Freight Project, that would feed into a proposed tunnel from Bay Ridge to the continental rail network terminus near Jersey City. The PA’s project has been dormant for the past two years but will shortly resume its Tier II Environmental Impact Study (EIS), during which it will look at how their freight could work in concert with the Interboro Express.

MTA, May 2022

Meanwhile the MTA will commence its own two-year EIS Study in early 2023, then possibly seek funding and commence design and construction. But given that the Penn Access Project in the Bronx took 10 years soup-to-nuts, transit operations for the Interborough might not start until 2032.

Short-term, the MTA will gather public input through the Summer and by year’s-end arrive at a decision on which of these three options should be the focus of the EIS: 1) Conventional Rail (essentially, LIRR-like commuter trains); 2) Light Rail (trolleys connected to catenary wires); or 3) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT – electric buses running at street level on a concrete platform erected above the roadbed).

MTA, May 2022

Given the political clout that the Cross Harbor Tunnel Project carries, it’s hard to see how any alternative other than the BRT will be chosen, resulting in an express bus with dozens of grade crossings. Why? Given all the development since the 1950s, flush to the Cut, there does not seem to be room for a passenger and freight line to share the same roadbed without massive eminent domain. That’s because the transit options, per federal regulations, would require significant separation from the freight line, creating a need for more space.

There are also major engineering constraints along the roadbed since both Light Rail and Conventional Rail must allow for gradients and minimum radius requirements for curvatures: more space the MTA would have to take. Cue the community blow-back.

Tight Squueze: Looking East to McDonald Avenue & F Train

I recall the Lindsey Administration’s 1969 proposal to build a “Linear City” on a concrete platform above the Bay Ridge line, with a new “Cross-Brooklyn Highway” added as well. HaHaHa! Robert Moses on steroids.

1969 Artist Conception of Linear City Over the Bay Ridge Line

But it looks to me like a linear Interboro Express bus platform looms. Assuming property-owner opposition in Borough Park, Midwood, Flatbush and elsewhere doesn’t doom it. If this analysis is wrong – and I have been called an idiot more than once of late – then I’ll take one order of Light Rail to go, please, since it has the only chance of navigating the tight curves through Borough Park. To see just how tight, pay attention to the first 15 seconds of this short clip by Nate Dorr who spent a year chronicling the Bay Ridge line with his camera. Hold on to your hat as you watch.

A Still From “Triboro”

You can comment on the Interborough Express at https://new.mta.info/IBX. The MTA especially wants to know: which of the three options do you prefer and where would you like a station to be located?