Lawmakers And Lawyers Try To stop LaGuardia AirTrain Project

Several New York state lawmakers are calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to kill the plans for a $2.1 billion AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport.

Hochul released a statement Monday calling on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an agency she has at the minimum uncompletely control over, to look for different options.

“I have asked the Port Authority to thoroughly examine different mass transit solutions for reducing car traffic and increasing connectivity to LaGuardia Airport,” Hohcul wrote in a statement. “We must ensure that our transportation projects are bold, visionary, and serve the needs of New Yorkers. I keep committed to working expeditiously to rebuild our infrastructure for the 21st century and to create jobs – not just at LaGuardia, but at all of our airports and transit hubs across New York.”

Standing outside a banquet hall in Corona, Queens, overlooking Jamaica Bay and the airport, along what would be the AirTrain route, state senators including Jessica Ramos, Leroy Comrie, Michael Gianaris, and John Liu, pushed Hochul to do more than consider other options, like bus or ferry service, or extending subway lines to the airport: They want her to unequivocally kill the AirTrain.

“I’m appreciative of the governor’s sentiments, but it is just that,” Ramos said. “We need Governor Hochul to stop the project all together.”

Citing the current clean-up from Hurricane Ida’s rainfall, the challenges of accessing public transportation, and long standing hunger issues in her district, Ramos additional, “East Elmhurst cannot eat the AirTrain.”

The hypothesizedv AirTrain route, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey project, would connect the Long Island Railroad and 7 aim stop at Mets-Willets Point to the new AirTrain. Former Governor Cuomo, who first hypothesizedv the project in 2015, boasted it would be a 30-minute LIRR ride from midtown to LaGuardia, helping address the vehicular traffic between the airport and Manhattan.

An illustration of the AirTrain route


An illustration of the AirTrain route

Port Authority

The plan underwent an extensive public comment period and a federal review and received final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration in July. Weeks later, Cuomo resigned amid sexual harassment allegations.

If built, the AirTrain would run along the waterfront promenade that runs from Willets Point to LaGuardia airport. On a recent Monday, the sounds of crickets, lapping water, and airplanes taking off could be heard there. Construction workers zoomed down the walkway on scooters. And longtime East Elmhurst resident Claudia Schellenberg was taking her regular stroll. She said she’s against the AirTrain project.

“I really feel it’s going to destroy the fabric of this area,” she said.

Where the AirTrain would run


Where the AirTrain would run

Stephen Nessen/WNYC

And this isn’t the first time politicians have tried to kill the project. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised flags in early 2020 about why the FAA hadn’t looked into other alternatives to a pricey AirTrain.

Earlier this year, the watchdog group Riverkeeper received Federal Aviation Administration documents by a lawsuit that showed the Port Authority favored the AirTrain over other, less costly options that could move more people to the airport more quickly, like bus or ferry options.

In early September, Riverkeeper, along with local groups Ditmars Boulevard Block Association and Guardians of Flushing Bay launched a lawsuit against the FAA claiming that of the 45 different options provided, the FAA didn’t seriously consider them.

“by what we think was a biased use of criteria to exclude all of the rest of the alternatives there was not a fair transit examination,” Michael Dulong, a senior attorney at Riverkeeper, said. “Our goal is to see that this is the best project for New Yorkers, the one that gets people out of cars and puts them on public transit to the airport. And the one that does so with the least possible impact on local communities and the ecosystem.”

As part of the lawsuit, Riverkeeper and the other groups requested a stay, or for the FAA to stop the project until the other transit options are more carefully reviewed.

In a statement, the FAA said it’s seeking information from the Port Authority about whether halting the project would impact the project.

When asked for comment about the calls to fragment the project and the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the PANYNJ sent comments made last week by the Executive Director Rick Cotton defending the project.

Rendering of the hypothesizedv LaGuardia AirTrain


Rendering of the hypothesizedv LaGuardia AirTrain

Courtesy Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office

“First, the project has been placed under an exhaustive and independent review by the federal aviation administration. It has approved the project and it has specifically analyzed all the alternatives,” Cotton said. “With respect to the project itself, it is a green infrastructure project. It is a green rail mass transit project. It will take six to 10 million air travelers, get them out of their cars, reduce congestion on the roadways, leading to the airport.”

The watchdog group Reinvent Albany pointed out the project is not as green as its proponents claim. Using the Port Authority’s own documents, the group finds only about 2 million users a year—compared to the agency’s 4.7 million calculate— will get to the airport using mass transit, most will take a car and either park or get dropped off at the AirTrain.

Pankaj Bhatara is the co-owner of the World’s Fair Marina and Banquet Hall, which sits nearby to where the AirTrain would be located. Bhatara worries the construction will damage the restaurant, which is built on landfill. “It’s going to sink our road,” he said. “This is not something that helps anyone in Queens, forget about New York City.”

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