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Debate Rages on Downtown Rail Link Funding

Articles over the weekend in both The New York Times and Downtown Express (here and here) discussed the prickly subject of how to pay for a rail link between Lower Manhattan and Queens, which could bring a faster transit connection to JFK airport and LIRR riders. Downtown business interests describe the rail link as essential, but residents and workers have given the idea a tepid response.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has slightly less than $1.2bn of its post-9/11 funding left. LMDC officials are cagey on their intentions, but evidently the Act of Congress that appropriated the money would permit the LMDC to shoot the wad on just one project, if that's what the LMDC board decides.

I'm a supporter of the JFK-LIRR-downtown project, which could indeed transform Lower Manhattan, but we need to find some other way to pay for it. Even if LMDC puts all its eggs in this basket, it won't even come close to fully paying for the project. (Well, it would if you believe the low-end estimates of $2.0bn, but I don't think it can be done for under $4.0bn.)

The LMDC has done a good job so far allocating its resources to smaller initiatives: a Chinatown study here, a housing grant there. Throwing all its weight behind one rail link that, even in the best of scenarios, won't see service for another decade, would be the wrong way to go.

Meantime, the MTA is to tell us sometime in April which of four design options for the rail link will be chosen for further development. Expect plenty of controversy, no matter which way the decision goes. I think this project is less than 50-50 to actually get built.

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