In January 1985, the Elmhurst station on the Long Island Rail Road Port Washington Branch closed. Ridership had dwindled to less than 100 per day. It was decided at the time, probably based on a cost-benefit analysis, that investing millions of dollars to upgrade the station made no economic sense. Research indicated that there would be a poor return in potential ridership that would utilize this station.
Due to the unfortunate events of 2012 Super Storm Sandy, there is a need to create alternative options for commuters, known as ‘redundancy.” The MTA is investing billions in capital projects to support this initiative. Reopening the old station would provide a new alternative for Port Washington LIRR customers should disruptions in service occur at either Woodside, Penn Station or the future Grand Central Terminal. Riders exiting the Elmhurst LIRR Station could transfer to either the M or R subway lines. There would be a future second transfer opportunity to either the E, F or #7 subway lines one stop away at Jackson Heights – Roosevelt Avenue station.
The MTA included $40 million within the LIRR’s $380 million 2015 – 2019 Capital Stations Program to support reopening the station.
The original station was built on street level going across Broadway past Whitney Avenue. The station had a platform and pedestrian underpass near the corner of Ketcham Place and 43rd Avenue to 88th Street.
There was also an entrance to the Port Washington-bound platform near the corner of Cornish Avenue and Broadway along with a tunnel leading to the Elmhurst Avenue subway station on the IND Queens Boulevard Line. This subway station is currently served by both the M & R lines.
Reopening the old station involved first spending $4 million in 2016 for planning, environmental review, preliminary and final design activities. This would have been followed by the initiation of construction in 2018 for $36 million. The new station was anticipated to be opened by the end of 2019.
The scope of work needed to reopen the station includes new 12 -car platforms, staircases, railings, passenger shelters, ticket vending machines, lighting. communication, signal and security equipment, general site improvements and passenger elevators to be fully compliant with the Americans Disability Act. Since the construction contract was never awarded. we don’t know if the engineers’ cost estimate of needing $36 million was sufficient to cover all of the above, including elevators.
In 2017, the MTA added $3 billion ($1.95 billion for LIRR Main Line Third Track & $700 million for Second Avenue Subway Phase 2) to the $29 billion 2015 – 2019 Five Year Capital Program Plan bringing it up to $32 billion. Buried in this plan amendment was reprogramming $37 million originally allocated to support the construction of the new Elmhurst LIRR Station to pay for other project(s). Only $3 million remains for preliminary design and environmental review. Restoration of $37 million to support final design and engineering along with construction was suppose to have been included within the $51 billion MTA 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan. There is no listing of additional funding to advance the station in this document. Overall project cost originally forecast for $40 million may require millions more due to inflation. Completion of final design and engineering might have taken place by the end of 2021. This would be followed by the advertising and award of a construction contract in 2022.
Notice to proceed followed by contractor mobilization, actual construction and completion may require another two years.
As a result, the original project completion date for reopening the station in 2019 might occur five years later in 2024. This is disappointing but not surprising given past manipulations and shortfalls in the MTA capital budget. There are also periodic problems with the LIRR in the completion of other capital improvement projects on time and within budget. Anyone looking to board the LIRR at the new Elmhurst Station may have to wait until 2030. This assumes funding is provided in the next MTA 2025 – 2029 Five Year Capital Plan for this project.
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road MTA Bus along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ.