MORRIS PARK — If all goes according to plan, transportation in the Bronx could see a major overhaul over the next decade, as the MTA moves forward with a proposal to expand its Metro-North rail service to four neighborhoods in the East Bronx.
MTA officials began a series of public hearings in the borough this week to introduce their plan and solicit feedback in the neighborhoods where the new train stations are being considered: Hunts Point, Parkchester, Morris Park and Co-op City.
At the first informational session held Monday night at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Morris Park, local leaders and residents said they would welcome the expansion, and are eager to see the plan come to fruition.
“I think that this is going to open up a whole new gateway for business here in the Bronx,” said Robert Ruggiero, chairman of the Morris Park Alliance.
The idea is to expand Metro-North service into Penn Station, with one line along the west side of Manhattan connecting to the existing Hudson line, and another that would run through the Bronx and connect to the existing New Haven line in Westchester. This would mean the building of six new train stations — two on Manhattan's west side, and four in the Bronx — and that Bronx residents would have easy access into Midtown, or to communities outside the city in Westchester and Connecticut.
If it came to pass, Morris Park residents would be a 25-minute ride from Penn Station in Midtown and another half-hour to Westchester and Connecticut, according to Metro-North officials.
The proposal is contingent on another plan that’s currently underway, to expand Long Island Rail Road access to Grand Central Terminal, which would free up some space in Penn Station for other uses. Officials estimated that the LIRR plan won’t be finished until at least 2019, meaning the Bronx expansion is still a long way off.
But Bronx leaders say it’s still important to look forward.
“So many more people are looking to invest in our borough,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., said at Monday’s meeting. “We need to make sure that our roadways, our bridges, and certainly our rail system, is one that’s going to be able to handle the influx of people who are either working from our borough, or who want to come and experience our borough.”
Roughly 5,000 Bronx residents currently use the Metro-North lines to commute to jobs outside the city, according to Robert MacLagger, Metro-North vice president of planning, making the Bronx the largest rail reverse commute market in the country.
“The Bronx is a very important market for the Metro-North,” he said.
The proposed new stations would run on existing Amtrak rails, MacLagger said, and so would cost little compared to other expansion projects, like the Second Avenue Subway or the extension of the No. 7 train line.
The station proposed for Morris Park would be located on Bassett Avenue near Loomis Street — placed at the crux of major hubs like the Hutchinson Metro Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Calvary Hospital.
Some community groups on Monday expressed concerns over lack of parking at the new stations, worrying that commuters from other neighborhoods might drive in and leave their cars on residential streets while they took the train into Manhattan.
“We have, everyday, a heavy influx of commuters that come down out of lower Westchester to take the subway,” said Ruggiero, of the Morris Park Merchants Alliance. “They feel like this is only going to compound that problem.”
But Metro-North officials said they expect riders who would use the proposed lines to be primarily of city residents who use public transportation, and would get to the new stations by subway, bus or bike.
Steven Sandhoff, 30, who moved to Morris Park from Manhattan two years ago after his wife started work at Albert Einstein, said he would be thrilled if the plan takes off. An attorney who works near Wall Street, his daily commute takes more than an hour.
But more importantly, he said, a new rail line might introduce other Manhattanites to the wonders of the neighborhood he now calls home.
“People are hesitant about this borough,” he said. “The Bronx is already great. One of the reasons people don’t see it is because there’s no way to get out here—or no easy way.”