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Reliable Infrastructure Could Be The Cure For Long Island’s Brain Drain

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Reliable Infrastructure Could Be The Cure For Long Island’s Brain Drain
The Atlantic Avenue station along the Long Island Rail Road

Long Island Rail Road’s “Summer of Hell” will be coming back for round two this year.

After making emergency track and system repairs to Penn Station last summer, Amtrak announced in April that it will now focus on track and signal repair work along the Empire Tunnel, Spuyten Duyvil Bridge and Track 19 in New York Penn Station.

The multibillion-dollar project is one of several infrastructure improvements planned for the New York Metropolitan area, particularly on Long Island. As the population of urban centers continues to grow, aging roads and public transportation have strained under increased use. For commercial real estate, delays and inaccessibility caused by poor infrastructure can have an indirect effect on property values and occupancy.

Over the last 25 years, Long Island’s population between the ages of 18 and 35 has declined 16%. Reliable infrastructure can encourage the construction of more transit-oriented developments in former suburban or bedroom communities, encouraging young professionals to stay in the area.

“As you have millennials coming up and graduating from college, many cities have made that investment in infrastructure to attract them,” Berdon LLP partner Marc Fogel said. “That’s the concern: that we will lose our talent and the companies will leave, which drives down the value of commercial real estate.”

Fogel is based on Long Island, which has a large population of commuters, several of whom experience difficulty getting in and out of New York City. Over 1.6 million people commute into Manhattan each day, filling the subways, ferries and commuter railways. As more offices move outside Manhattan to boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens, public transportation routes are struggling to keep pace with the spread of commuters throughout the metropolitan region. 

Temporary solutions for mitigating the delays caused by the LIRR repairs last year included summer ferry service from Glen Cove, Long Island, to East 34th Street in Manhattan. The service modeled a similar public-private partnership between the city of New York and ferry service Hornblower to connect the waterfronts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and soon the Bronx

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also revived talk of a Long Island Sound Link, a direct connection between Long Island, Connecticut and Westchester. Two of the proposed termini are Bridgeport and New Haven, and estimated costs range from $8.5B to $55B. The goal is to reduce traffic on the Long Island Expressway, especially through New York City. 

Adding adequate transportation near residential and commercial neighborhoods has had a proven impact on the value of New York City real estate. Following the opening of the Second Avenue Subway, property values on the Upper East Side rose 4% in the last 12 months

Reliable Infrastructure Could Be The Cure For Long Island’s Brain Drain
Work continues on the Manhattan side of the East Side Access Project below Grand Central Terminal

Commuters from Long Island into Midtown will also have direct access to Grand Central via the LIRR once the $11B East Side Access project is complete. The new service link will allow commuters to bypass an already strained Penn Station, and in conjunction with the third track project between Floral Park and Hicksville and the second track project between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma, will increase train service between Manhattan and Long Island by 45% in the coming years.

The East Side Access project will also give commuters a way to get from Long Island to Westchester and Fairfield counties, which have seen a growing office presence in cities like White Plains, New Rochelle and Stamford. 

The hope is that these improvements along the LIRR will reverse the brain drain the area has seen in recent years, by making it easier for Long Island residents to commute into the city and vice versa. More frequent train service means city residents could reach jobs in the nearby suburbs. 

“That’s the goal, to get more people out here,” Fogel said. “To get more companies out here. We haven’t had a large company relocate their corporate offices to Long Island in a long time. We need talent, and we want to encourage reverse commuting.”

Improved rail access could be the catalyst Long Island needs to develop mixed-use properties that will draw in young professionals. At 20% of its housing stock, Long Island has the smallest share of renter-occupied homes compared with any other part of the metropolitan area. The Island has 8,300 underutilized acres near rail stations, and using just half of that space for development could result in 90,000 new townhouses and apartments.

Progress has been made along major railroad junctions like Ronkonkoma. Repairs have opened up discussions of linking the system to nearby MacArthur Airport. Ronkonkoma Hub is a $650M mixed-use project that will bring housing, office space, retail and entertainment venues to Suffolk County. Similar projects, including the Port Jefferson Downtown project that recently broke ground, are being developed throughout the island as it continues to become more evident that investments in infrastructure and transportation are essential for the region’s economic well-being.

As more walkable centers crop up along the LIRR lines, the hope is that more people choose to live, work and play in the area. 

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Berdon LLP. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.