From the trails of Long Island to the environs of Newark Airport and the miles of coastline in between, a string of sizable infrastructure projects in the region share a common theme.
The organizations driving the projects forward – allies like the Trust for Public Land (TPL), Rebuild by Design (RBD), and the New York Building Congress (NYBC) – have been picking up ideas from the Fourth Plan and doing the hard work of early implementation.
The Fourth Plan calls for the creation of a tri-state trail network to link the region’s many disconnected natural areas from the Catskills to the NJ Pinelands to Long Island. To ease implementation, we wrote, the trail should be developed, “with existing and planned trails in combination with rights-of-way for pipelines, transmission lines, railways, roadways, and natural features such as beaches and waterways.”
The Empire State Trail, proposed by Governor Cuomo in January 2017, is a continuous 750-mile route running from northern New York State to the tip of Manhattan – without continuing to Long Island. The Trust for Public Land developed an extension of the Empire State Trail which they’re calling the Long Island Greenway. It utilizes rights-of-way from transmission lines and other infrastructure to connect Long Island with the rest of the trail network, and largely follows the alignment RPA suggested for our tri-state trail network. In December 2019, New York State Parks and Recreation awarded TPL a grant to plan the Greenway’s first phase, a 24-mile leg from Eisenhower Park to Bethpage State Park to Brentwood State Park.
To keep up with the growing demand for air travel while adapting to climate change, the Fourth Plan proposed a slew of upgrades at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). Key among them are connecting the airport to the regional rail network, by extending the PATH train to meet the Northeast Corridor rail station at EWR, addressing flooding from projected sea level rise, and adding airfield capacity. We elaborated on these recommendations in our December, 2019 report Taking the PATH to Newark Airport, emphasizing that transit upgrades at EWR can and should deliver more opportunities to the surrounding communities like Newark’s South Ward.
The New York Building Congress also released a report in December which envisions an “Airport City” to create greater connectivity between EWR and its surroundings. A direct connection to the region’s central business district through regional rail would allow communities around the airport to capitalize on the “unique and powerful confluence of transportation modes.” NYBC recommends preparing a resilience strategy that addresses projected sea level rise for the next 100 years and implementing our 4th Plan recommendations for added capacity in the airfield. An equitable, community-driven development process should guide the project, writes NYBC, ensuring that investments are benefiting local residents and business.
The Fourth Plan makes the case for instituting climate adaptation trust funds in each state. As we wrote in 2017, “The need to adapt and protect our communities against climate change is an ongoing challenge, but the funding mechanisms we have today do not allow communities to plan for the long term.”
Rebuild by Design, which convenes stakeholders across sectors to proactively plan for climate change adaptation, has been working for the past year to create a concept for a resiliency infrastructure fund. They designed the fund for New York State, but it’s replicable in other places. Last month, Governor Cuomo proposed creating a statewide source of funding for nature-based resilience projects funded in part by a $3 billion bond. Although it’s not a permanent infrastructure fund, it’s a landmark for state-level resilience efforts and it may not have happened without RBD’s advocacy.
We want to call attention to the efforts of these organizations who are actually turning plans into realities. We want to thank them for their continued collaboration, and we want to urge them on towards the finish line so that our shared visions can come to life and make the tri-state region more equitable, healthy, prosperous, and sustainable.