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Final push to get LaGuardia AirTrain off the ground

City real estate and business leaders are urging the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to approve a planned LaGuardia Airtrain

With construction employment down by more than 13 percent and the tourism industry devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, the group say the $2 billion venture is needed now more than ever.

“While New York has led the way in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to face a steep climb in rebuilding our economy,” said the group of 95 organizations and transit leaders in letter to the FAA as it enters the final stages of its review of the plan.

“Despite the challenges, we remain confident that New York will come back. And one of the strategies we’ve relied on is to build our way back by investing in infrastructure that creates good paying jobs now, when we need them, while building the foundation for growth well into the future.” 

The project, which could begin construction as early as next year if it receives full FAA approval, would support 3,000 union construction jobs and drive hundreds of millions of dollars in contracting opportunities to local, minority, and women-owned businesses, according to A Better Way to LGA , the group corralling support for the venture.

“AirTrain LaGuardia’s benefits will continue to bolster our economy for decades to come by creating a mass rail transit link to the airport that will provide a fast and dependable ride to and from Midtown Manhattan of 30 minutes or less,” said the A Better Way to LGA consortium, that includes REBNY, New York Building Congress and the Building & Construction Trades Council.

“Today, 93 percent of travel to LaGuardia is by private vehicle or private shuttles. Relying on vehicles means that travelers, too often, spend their first and last hours in New York stuck in traffic. With the historic, $8 billion investment to transform LaGuardia into the nation’s most technologically sophisticated airport, it is ludicrous to think that it should remain as the only major airport on the East Coast without a mass transit rail link.” 

Some 95 organizations and transit leaders have pledged support for the project, including all five New York City Chambers of Commerce, local Queens business leaders and State transportation leaders who believe an AirTrain offers a reliable, green alternative that will reduce vehicle emissions and congestion.

Surveys of passengers at LaGuardia indicate that as many as 10 million would use AirTrain and its connections through a new station at Willets Point to the Long Island Rail Road and the No. 7 subway to Manhattan. 

“Those connections will be an important asset as we rebuild our tourism and convention industry, while making New York more inviting and easier to navigate for business travelers who will have greater options for conducting business virtually in the future,” said A Better Way to Go in its open letter.

According to its supporters, the JFK AirTrain – which opened in 2003 – has shown how a driverless, 24/7 rail system can help spark local economic development, noting it has been a catalyst for more than $1 billion in private and public investment to date, with more in development. 

“AirTrain LaGuardia could do the same for the long-anticipated redevelopment of Willets Point adjacent to the new station, helping turn a blighted industrial district into a neighborhood filled with new housing, retail, hotels, schools, and parks,” said the letter. 

Willets Point rendering

A joint-venture of Related Companies and Sterling Equities is transforming a long contaminated area known as the Iron Triangle in Queens into the five million square feet new Willets Point development that will have a mix of retail, housing and entertainment once its complete.

The proposed people-mover would run mostly alongside the Grand Central Parkway and the Flushing Bay promenade on a 1.5-mile route between LaGuardia Airport in East Elmhurst and Willets Point, where it would connect to the 7 subway line and the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Washington branch.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is supporting the venture, which would require no private property and would not run through any residential neighborhood or commercial

AirTrain LaGuardia also has the near unanimous support of the state Legislature and has received initial approval from the Federal Aviation AirTrain Administration, which is conducting an environmental review.

The Port Authority is the project sponsor and the FAA is the federal lead agency responsible for preparing the EIS. The project would include passenger stations at LaGuardia Airport that would connect with the Long Island Railroad and the New York City subway system at Willets Point, in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. 

Opponents have suggested the airport would be better served by extending the N train to LaGuardia or increasing the number of bus lanes on the Parkway.

The environmental organization, Guardians of Flushing Bay, has called the AirTrain “an unnecessary boondoggle” that will hamper economic recovery Northern Queens.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also spoken out against the plan, saying the PA has ruled out alternative solutions without explaining why.

“This decision will have a lasting impact on thousands of people in our community,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The community must receive answers to their fundamental questions and it’s imperative that we understand why further investment and improvement of other transit options have been ruled out.”

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