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Rockaway line could see new life as trail

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"When you have a situation like this in an urban neighborhood, it would be a shame not to take advantage of it," said Tom Sexton, northeast regional director of Rails-To-Trails Conservancy -- a national organization that has converted thousands of miles of lonely tracks into popular thoroughfares for exercise and outdoor enthusiasts.The would-be trail begins in Rego Park at the old Long Island Railroad station, called White Pot Junction, and follows Alderton Street south through Forest Hills, Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park. It will end at Rockaway Boulevard.Because the path traverses a number of neighborhoods, it would have to incur favor from Community Boards 6, 9, and 10.Richmond Hill's CB 9 already passed a resolution in December supporting the idea, but the other two remain on the fence.In January, Jordan Sandke, a Richmond Hill school teacher who began promoting the plan last summer, brought it in front of CB 6's Rego Park and Forest Hills homeowners. Some praised the trail while others feared that the pathway would cut through their backyards and bring with it loiters, litter and vandals.CB 9 residents also had reservations, but for a different reason. Since most of their neighborhoods are distant from any public transit system, many prefer the abandoned rail line be reopened rather than to be converted into a bike path."It will be hard to sell to some people who are holding out for the rail to be revived," said Dominick Pistone, president of the Kew Gardens Civic Association.One possible solution was altering the proposal to include both the rails and trail, according to Sexton of Rails-To-Trails.Sexton said the trail would provide an environmentally friendly and healthy commute and would deter the illegal dumping which now plagues the overgrown tracks.After a tour of the site Monday, Sexton also lauded the location itself as prime for permitting amenities such as shops and restaurants along the trail, as well as providing access to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and Rockaway Beach . "It could become a boulevard for so much," said Sexton, who traveled from his office in Pennsylvania to speak at the CB 9 meeting, attended by fewer than 10 residents in all. Besides gathering community support, trail advocates must appeal to the city's Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which bought the land from the Metropolitan Transit Authority years ago.And then there is the issue of funding, which Sexton said mostly comes mostly from federal allocations. A transportation official with the Department of City Planning said a feasibility study was completed but could not proceed until Congress grants them funds -- a process the official said could take years.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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