As I've written before, the Rockaway Peninsula is one of the least sustainable places in the New York area. This sand bar might be okay for some cheap, replaceable summer bungalows and amusement parks, but it's no place for year-round inhabitants, much less large public housing projects. It's definitely not a place where you'd want to sink lots of money into expensive road infrastructure, but that's what the state has done, and every time it tries to charge people a reasonable fee for maintaining this massive system, they whine about it. The residents also made the mistake of depending for their power on bad sources, first on organized crime and nuclear fission, then on a legitimately underfunded but inept state agency.
For all their tough talk, it sounds like the Governor and the Mayor have passed up the opportunity to dump this money pit. We will rebuild, apparently. We'll rebuild the acres of single-family homes sprawled across the sand. We'll rebuild the parts of the housing projects that were damaged. We'll rebuild the train bridge that makes the commute slightly less polluting. We'll rebuild the telephone poles.
One of the most obnoxious elements of this whole thing was the pride that the MTA staff displayed in putting twenty R32 cars onto flatbed trucks and driving them over to the Rockaways. Don't they get it that this is really bad symbolism? Every time a train car is loaded onto a truck it sends the message that cars and trucks are the "real" transportation, and we have to do all kinds of things with them to get the trains working. On the other hand, these are probably the same MTA managers who live in East Northport and drive to their train yards and bus depots. Their entire lives are spent driving to run a transit system, so how can they ever imagine it could be any other way?
It's not clear how long it will take to restore the trestle across the bay, but the MTA could use some of the reconstruction money to restore the original tracks that went to Rockaway from Valley Stream. That connection came in handy in 1950 when the trestle was destroyed in a fire, and the Long Island Rail Road was able to run trains through Far Rockaway, as shown in this schedule:
Did they learn from that bit of resilience? Nah. In 1956 the LIRR sold the trestle and the peninsular tracks to the city, and in 1958 a quarter mile of track was removed in Far Rockaway. In 1966 the State took over the LIRR, and in 1968 it took over New York City transit, but it didn't rebuild the connection. A supermarket has been built across the old right-of-way, as you can see in this satellite picture:
If the track connection were still there, it would have been a relatively simple matter to move the trains. Better yet, the LIRR could have run trains direct from Penn Station. They wouldn't have to take an hour and a half like they did in 1951, if they went express from Far Rockaway to Valley Stream.
I don't know exactly how much it would cost to buy out the supermarket, rebuild the tracks and adjust the stations platforms for LIRR train cars, but probably only a couple million dollars. For a few million more you could build an elevated trestle over the supermarket and not even have to demolish it. Sure, it's a lot of money, but probably nothing compared to what we're spending to rebuild the trestle across the bay.
On one level, all of this is silly, because we simply can't afford to keep people living on a sand bar year round. It'd be a lot simpler if the train line just had to serve beachgoers; it could be rebuilt every spring if need be. But if we're going to have people living out there all year, they should have some real train service, and despite what Gridlock Sam may say, we shouldn't lower the tolls. That would ensure that they will drive for years more, keeping the trains empty and heavily subsidized.