There weren’t any surprises in the draft environmental impact statement for Belmont Park’s redevelopment, which includes a new arena for the New York Islanders.
After all, many of the initial concerns, from the location of an electric substation to the height of the hotel, already have been addressed.
So now we’re left with two central issues: traffic and transit.
Limiting vehicle traffic and improving public transit options, however possible, are key to the game-winning goal: Building a new arena for the Islanders, a hotel and a retail village at a site that’s been devoid of economic activity.
So, Empire State Development and Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials will have to work with the development team known as New York Arena Partners to find the best solutions.
On traffic, there’s only so much state officials can do. They can change the timing on some traffic lights or add turn lanes as necessary. But they can’t widen the Cross Island Parkway. That is not a surprise.
Developers should enlist traffic experts, especially those who have worked on other key state projects or other arena developments, to provide fresh ideas. The upcoming public hearings in January could be forums for new thinking, too. Meanwhile, state officials and the developers are right to encourage changes in behavior, perhaps by providing incentives to use ride-sharing or carpooling, or convincing fans and concertgoers to come early or stay late.
But none of that is going to entirely solve the problem. So, then there’s public transit. Empire State Development officials proposed adding only two Long Island Rail Road trains before a game or concert, and two trains afterward, via the existing rail spur. They’d carry just over 2,000 people in each direction.
That’s not enough, especially if the goal is for more people to take the train. State and MTA officials must determine whether there are ways to do more. No matter what, they must be flexible once the arena opens in 2021, so they can ramp up if demand outpaces supply.
Separately, state officials must not forget the bigger goal: a full-time station at Belmont with service in both directions. To be clear, the MTA is in a budget crisis and has a lot of competing priorities. No one is asking the authority to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars for this right now. But some private investment, or a public-private partnership, could be possible, especially when public transit would help boost the private development. Also possible: a value-capture model in which a portion of tax revenue from the site is used to expand transit.
But to figure out what should be done and how to pay for it, the MTA has to make public a menu of options and costs showing how to achieve everything from increased service to a new station with new track on the Main Line. Then the developers, the MTA and state officials can determine the best way forward.
But Belmont’s redevelopment shouldn’t be delayed by the hope of expanding LIRR offerings there. The project should proceed, with the MTA’s efforts running on a parallel, albeit perhaps longer-term, track.
In the meantime, a brighter economic future at Belmont is ahead.
— The editorial board