CityViews: It’s Time to Finally Give Up the Dream of a Subway to Staten Island

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Thomas Plunkett

No one remembers the long forgotten proposed tunnel between 69th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and St. George, Staten Island. The concept was to extend subway service from the Brooklyn BMT line to Staten Island. Ground was broken with entrances at both ends in the 1920’s, but the project quickly ran out of money and was abandoned to history. When living on Shore Road in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, friends and I would look to no avail in attempting to find the abandon site filled in decades earlier. At that time, the estimated cost was $60 million. Flash forward 90 years later and it would cost $6 billion today. Another concept was to build a subway tunnel connecting St. George with either the #1 South Ferry or R subway line Whitehall Street subway stations. This second concept which would require an even longer tunnel would cost $10 billion.

Construction of any new freight or public transportation tunnel or bridge project can take decades by the time all feasibility studies, environmental reviews, planning, design, engineering, real estate acquisition, permits, procurements, construction, budgeting, identifying and securing funding is completed. This is before the project reaches beneficial use.

In 1953, the old NYC Board of Transportation passed on control of the municipal subway and bus system, including all its assets to the newly created NYC Transit Authority. That same year, the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road threatened to terminate all service on Staten Island due to financial losses. NYC agreed to begin providing public subsidy for continued operation of the Tottenville line along with the end of service on the North and South Beach branches.

In 1971, the passenger operations of the former B&O Rail Road Staten Island Rapid Transit Railway Company were sold to NYC for $3.5 million. Later that year, NYC passed on control to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA created a subsidiary, the Staten Island Rapid Transit Operating Authority. It is managed by the MTA NYC Transit’s Department of Subways. Since that time, primarily MTA funding was used for capital improvements. In recent times, the MTA initiated using U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration funding for some SIRTOA capital investments including stations upgrades.

There is just a continuing series of feasibility studies sponsored by various governmental agencies and public officials over decades to improve transit connections for Staten Island residents. They generate money for consultants along with free publicity for elected officials who promise a bright future but leave you holding an empty bag. At the end of the day, the long abandoned Brooklyn to Staten Island subway will stay buried.

It will be a miracle to even find $600 million for funding the North Shore Bus Rapid Transit. The same is true for other new Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail or extending existing SIRTOA service from the South Shore to support any resumption of service in your lifetime on the old North Shore branch which was abandoned in the 1950’s. Ditto for $1.5 billion to pay for West Shore Bus Rapid Transit. The odds of financing and building any subway extension from either Manhattan or Brooklyn to Staten Island are the same as you or I winning a $100 million dollar lotto.

Don’t have any elected officials waste your hard earned tax dollars for another feasibility study to build a direct connection to either Brooklyn or Manhattan. It is a sure bet that it isn’t going to happen for another 90 years.

Larry Penner is a transportation historian,advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.

6 thoughts on “CityViews: It’s Time to Finally Give Up the Dream of a Subway to Staten Island

  1. No one on S.I. dreams about or even cares about a subway connection except a few elected officials and the Staten Island Advance.

  2. Why not? More and more people move to the big cities and that is a global thing. Staten Island isn’t yet densely populated. Why not build affordable housing for one million extra people on Staten Island + a subway line from Manhattan to Staten Island?

    Revitalizing the countryside is an alternative but how to do that? Nobody really knows. Make it possible to move to the big cities.

    Is it technically possible to extend line 1 to Staten Island?

    • You want to triple Staten Island’s population? Staten Island’s population is just under 1/2 million, and the infrastructure can’t handle even that. And, where would all those people live?

      • To build all of that additional housing, the city would have to assert the right of eminent domain. At this point, seems highly unlikely.

  3. Why train line when you can just speed up the ferry’s. Make the trip to manhattan in 10 minutes instead. It would only take about $10 million or less per year more money to operate boats at this increased speed and the infrastructure is already in place. Problem solved.

  4. The various proposals concerning transportation in Staten Island over the years all sound like good ideas but lets look at some data: Even if a tunnel was built to either Bay Ridge or South Ferry from Staten Island, would the ridership justify the cost? The cost of the SBS could be put to better use by drastically improving the local bus service. I have lived on Staten Island for about a two years, but some of these plans make no sense at all. If you put in the SBS on the North Shore, how will this affect traffic flow? Also, you have trucks making deliveries, what are you going to, convert it to a one way thoroughfare (to St George in the morning and back in the evening). What Xhafer said in his post on January 27th makes a lot of sense. The fact of the matter is there is a very limited number of options for mass transit improvements in Staten Island.

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