February 4, 2016 / 6:38 PM / 2 years ago

New York mayor to back $2.5 billion light rail in key speech

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will back a $2.5 billion plan to create a light rail service linking the city’s outer boroughs when he gives his annual keynote speech on Thursday

The 16-mile track would run from Astoria in Queens, tracing a line along the East River and New York’s upper harbor to link up with Sunset Park in Brooklyn. It would pass through popular neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Brooklyn Heights.

The plan is not new but the mayor’s emphasis reflects the growing importance of the outer boroughs. It also makes good on his pledge to address the gap between wealthy Manhattan and the rest of the city, a longstanding gripe with many New Yorkers.

“This is about equity and innovation. We are mapping brand new transit that will knit neighborhoods together,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The introduction of a light rail service would be a new development for the city. It would mirror the increasing use of such services in New Jersey, especially connecting the growing commuter towns along the Hudson River, an area real estate developers have dubbed the “Gold Coast.”

The mayor’s office said the city will offset costs with tax revenues from increased property values along the proposed line.

Major upgrades are being planned to aging transport infrastructure throughout the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo has embraced around $100 billion of projects including a $20 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

De Blasio, who comes from the liberal wing of the Democratic party, has emphasized social issues since taking office in 2014 such as free schooling for four year olds and reforming the city’s police.

He will likely use Thursday’s state of the city address to hone in on some of those issues. Homelessness will likely be a focus after the mayor faced accusations he was not doing enough to address the problem.

De Blasio is also likely to revisit public safety. He and his police commissioner, Bill Bratton, cited new statistics on Wednesday showing this January was the safest ever.

De Blasio shifted Thursday’s speech to 7 p.m. from its usual daytime spot in the hope of reaching more New Yorkers. It will be held at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, a concert venue in the Bronx.

(This version of the story corrects day of speech in paragraphs 1, 9 and 11)

Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by David Gregorio

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