Aug. 24, 2020 By Allie Griffin
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed $2 billion LaGuardia AirTrain plan Friday and has opened the public comment period.
The FAA posted the draft review for the proposed 1.5-mile AirTrain from Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport online and concluded that the AirTrain route favored by the Port Authority was the best option.
The AirTrain — which Governor Andrew Cuomo first proposed in 2015 — would provide a link between the Willets Point Station and the airport. The public could access the Willets Point Station via the Long Island Railroad or 7 train and then take it to LaGuardia Airport.
The project has been highly contested by residents and local leaders who say the connecting 7 train is already crowded and that it would negatively impact the surrounding area, such as the Flushing Bay.
Others coming from west of LaGuardia Airport have complained that the route takes them past the airport to Willets Point, where they then head back in the direction they came from to get to LaGuardia.
The FAA, however, dismissed all other alternatives to the proposed AirTrain as they either didn’t fix the issue of travel times and traffic congestion at the airport or they aren’t reasonable to construct and operate, or both, according to the draft environmental impact statement.
The agency, for example, deemed ferry service unreliable as far as scheduling exact arrival times and wrote that extending the subway line in Astoria would be too costly and cause interruptions in service.
The proposed project does have some support though. Groups like the Queens Chamber of Commerce and Queens EDC want the AirTrain to come to fruition.
The project needs federal funding. Many local groups opposed to the project are urging Congress not to direct COVID-19 federal stimulus funds toward it. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also said federal dollars should not go toward the AirTrain.
According to the 34-page summary, construction of the LGA AirTrain is expected to begin in August 2021, and be completed in November 2025.
The public is able to submit comments through an online form or by email, voicemail or snail mail through Oct. 5. They can also voice any concerns or support at public workshops to be held virtually due to COVID-19 next month.
Public workshops and hearings regarding the AirTrain are scheduled for Sept. 22, 23 and 24 via Zoom. Those interested in participating can register online.
There will be two public workshops and three public hearings, which will also be livestreamed on the FAA Facebook and Youtube accounts. The workshops are on Sept. 22 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Sept. 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The hearings are set for Sept. 22 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Sept. 23 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Sept. 24 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The FAA may not complete the NEPA process by issuing an environmental NEPA finding until 2021. There is no guarantee that this project will advance beyond completion of the NEPA process.
In our new COVID-19 world, Airlines just like Amtrak, Long Island & Metro North Rail Roads and New Jersey Transit have to reevaluate anticipated future ridership growth projections. Anticipated ridership figures for the LaGuardia Air Train also need to be updated.
More people are going to telecommute from home on a permanent basis. There will be fewer face to face meetings and conferences, with increased useage of Zoom. The growing crime rate and decline for quality of life in NYC will make working, shopping, dinning, visiting or living in Manhattan even less desirable. Many Manhattan based corporations are considering relocating employees to satellite offices in the surrounding suburbs. Fewer tourists will be flying into the Big Apple. The same is true for those from out of town needing to conduct business in NYC. As the middle and upper class residents continue to move out of NYC, there may be fewer travelers using LaGuardia Airport.
Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton has asked Congress for a $3 billion bailout to make up for revenue losses. These additional federal dollars would allow him to move forward with his capital construction plan, including the LaGuardia Air Train. Since the Senate has adjourned for the summer, any second round of CARE COVID19 transportation funding is not in the cards any time soon.
In 2014, Governor Cuomo said the cost was $450 million with a completion date of 2019. The Port Authority has budgeted $2.05 billion of funding within the $37 billion 2017 – 2026 Ten Year Capital Plan for the LaGuardia Air Train. This doesn’t include several hundred million more which is necessary to relocate the NYC Transit Flushing Casey Stangel Bus Depot. There is no funding within the MTA $51 billion 2020 – 2024 to pay for this cost. No one can predict the final cost and completion date. Port Authority state of good repair, safety and security projects clearly should be higher priority than any system expansion project such as the LaGuardia Air Train. It may make more sense to postpone the LaGuardia Air Train to the next 2027 -2038 Port Authority Capital Plan.
(Larry Penner — transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit bus and subway, Staten Island Rail Road, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)..