New York City

IBX light rail gets a shot in the arm, despite MTA’s about-face on tolls

June 28, 2024 Raanan Geberer
An artist’s rendering of a proposed Interborough Express station at Wilson Avenue in Brooklyn, showing a light rail train, a freight train and the entrance to the subway system’s L train station. Rendering courtesy of MTA
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Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recent desire to “pause” congestion pricing put a shadow on many planned improvements in the MTA’s subway, bus and commuter rail system that were expected to be funded by the new toll program.

Among these was the planned Interborough Express or IBX: a light rail line that would travel, within the Long Island Rail Road and Bay Ridge Freight Line’s right-of-way, from Bay Ridge to Borough Park to Flatbush to East Flatbush to East New York and, from there, into Queens.

Transit advocates’ hopes were dashed Wednesday when the MTA board voted 10-1 to second Hochul’s slamming the brakes on congestion pricing. However, there was also a bright side. The federal Department of Transportation announced $44.7 billion in grants for three projects in New York — one of which was the IBX.

Some $15 million in Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants would go toward preparing a planning assessment for the transit link, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. The official announcement says the IBX “will shift travelers from higher-risk modes of travel and make street-level improvements that will further improve safety for everyone.”

A map of the planned Interborough Express light rail system, showing the subway lines it will intersect with. Map courtesy of MTA
A map of the planned Interborough Express light rail system, showing the subway lines it will intersect with. Map courtesy of MTA

The IBX, variations of which had been on the drawing board for years, was made an official state project by Hochul in 2022. Its route would connect to as many as 17 subway lines and 52 bus routes, the MTA says. IBX service would be designed to coexist with rail freight. 

Also, part of the RAISE grants is $5,664,000 to support planning activities for the Urban Freight Mobility Collaborative. The goal of the collaborative, according to the feds, is “to encourage the replacement of freight vehicles with cargo bikes, waterborne freight and cleaner alternative fuel vehicles,” as well as to identify locations for electric vehicle charging stations, cargo bicycle parking and more.

Although Brooklyn wasn’t specifically mentioned in connection with the Urban Freight Mobility Collaborative, the borough’s waterfront neighborhoods would certainly be a focus of this effort. Red Hook residents and officials, for example, have often complained about the number of warehouses in the area, the resulting traffic jams and the lack of adequate roads to handle traffic coming in or out of the Red Hook Cruise Terminal.

The MTA board’s vote may not come as a surprise to many people since the members are appointed by the governor, with some input from New York City and the surrounding counties.

A light rail track and train on the planned Interborough Express. Rendering courtesy of MTA
A light rail track and train on the planned Interborough Express. Rendering courtesy of MTA

Before the board voted, the line of people wishing to make comments stretched around the block outside the agency’s Lower Manhattan headquarters. Many of these people strongly defended congestion pricing — and many were from Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso slammed the board members — most of whom had originally voted for congestion pricing — for caving into the governor. “Why even have an MTA board if the decisions are made only on political whims?” he asked. “The board has consistently been disrespected and thrown to the wolves anytime a governor wants to make a political decision. 

“As a result, we have one of the least-funded systems in the United States. There must be some board members who have some ego, some pride,” he said.

In an outdoor protest rally before the vote,  Assemblymember Robert Carroll (D. Park Slope, Kensington, Windsor Terrace, Prospect Heights) urged the  board members to “take their fiduciary responsibility and have the courage of their convictions.” He reminded those present that congestion pricing was passed by the Assembly and the State Senate five years ago and said one person — the governor — shouldn’t have the ability to “tear it up.”

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