Charles Moerdler believes Metro-North Railroad is behaving a bit sneakily in handling a sprawling greenway project, and he’s not happy about it.
Metro-North wants to green-light $33 million for a connection of trails and highways in Putnam County, something Moerdler, who serves on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, may have actually supported. That is if it didn’t seem to draw much-needed funds from the long-demanded greenway in Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale.
“In my view there is something rotten in Denmark here,” Moerdler said at a Metro-North Railroad committee meeting March 25.
“It was a question of nondisclosure to the community,” Moerdler subsequently told The Riverdale Press. “By not disclosing that there was another effort upstate to do the same damn thing inland, they were not disclosing that there was, in effect, a competition going on.”
The funds are coming from a $123 million appropriation Moerdler claims Metro-North hadn’t previously disclosed. The revelation of this extra cash comes after Metro-North officials told Community Board 8’s Bob Bender his special greenway committee was going to have to seek its own funds to provide public access to the Hudson along the existing Metro-North tracks.
Metro-North officials were hesitant to support such a Bronx project, primarily over concerns of how feasible it would be running alongside the Hudson, and whether it would really be money well spent. In fact, Moerdler admits having some of those same concerns in the beginning. That is until then state Sen. Jeffrey Klein allocated $250,000 toward a feasibility study in 2015.
That study revealed that not only was such a greenway project feasible, Moerdler said, but it could actually help stabilize the Metro-North railway tracks between Yonkers and the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Metro-North wasn’t buying it however — at least not over the upstate project. The railroad wanted the MTA board to award a $33.6 million contract to Arch Associates to design and build the Maybrook Trailway section of the Empire State Trail. The 23-mile segment would connect Brewster to Hopewell Junction in Putnam and Dutchess counties, adjacent to Metro-North’s Beacon line as part of an overall effort to help unify the 400-mile scattered trail.
The trailway, according to railroad officials, would utilize part of Metro-North’s dormant Beacon line right of way, while preserving the existing underground fiber optic cable installations and the rail line for potential future use.
Metro-North president Catherine Rinaldi described the Riverdale greenway plan as an “independent project” that had little to do with the Empire State Trail.
“It does not provide that connectivity to the remainder of the route that will go up to the Canadian border and over to the western part of the state,” Rinaldi told the committee, although, she conceded it could possibly be justified for “other reasons.”
“We don’t want to lose any more time, frankly,” Rinaldi added.
“This is not basically paving a pathway in the middle of the woods. There’s some really technical and challenging engineering that needs to be done to get this thing delivered. We don’t want to lose another month.”
Still, as Moerdler sees it, Metro-North is “gaming the community.”
“I really take offense when people in government do that to communities,” Moerdler said later. “When they do it in my backyard, I take particular umbrage.”
He has nothing against the Putnam project, but believed the funding didn’t have to be limited to upstate, with some funds available for Moerdler’s own community, too.
Although Moerdler remains steadfast in the belief that transit money should be used only to improve transit, this particular funding wasn’t transit money, but instead cash allocated by the state parks department.
“If (the) parks department had $123 million to give upstate, it could at least have given the money — the $500,000 that was needed for the engineering study — down here,” Moerdler said.
The MTA board approved the Putnam project March 27, but Moerdler abstained.
“I didn’t vote against it because I didn’t want to begrudge the people in Putnam and Duchess,” he said. “But at the same time, I wanted to make clear my concern with this process. I found this very, very troublesome, and I think the community’s going to have to make known its view if they want to have a greenway here.
“And I think the public interest says that we should have one here.”