On June 11, Guardians of Flushing Bay (GOFB), backed by Community Board 3, the Ditmars Boulevard Boulevard Block Association and other groups, penned a letter calling on the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations to reject the Port Authority’s request for special bailout funds to pursue its capital investment plans.
“While some of this funding may be critical to stabilize Port Authority operations, no funding should be provided to the AirTrain,” wrote Rebecca Pryor, program coordinator with GOFB. “The AirTrain is an unnecessary boondoggle that will hamper economic recovery in our watershed, a region in northern Queens that has been heavily impacted by COVID-19.”
Pryor noted that the proposed AirTrain route would require riders to travel from Manhattan to Willets Point, only to double back to the airport. She added that subway and bus options already offer a quick ride to the airport, and argued that the 7 train can’t handle the expected influx in capacity.
“With air travel down 97 percent and rail ridership down 95 percent, it is time to wholly rethink transit and travel in the region,” she wrote. “The wake of the initial impact of COVID-19 is not an opportunity to force through pet projects. This is a moment to prioritize community resilience and transit equity.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currency going through an environmental impact review of the $2 billion project. In January, the federal agency ruled out studying alternative ways to get to the airport, angering local residents and environmental groups.
At an information session, Andrew Brooks, the FAA’s environmental program manager for the Eastern Region, explained that the alternatives were screened out because they didn’t meet the agency’s criteria.
In GOFB’s letter, Pryor said alternatives must be considered and the “assumptions underlying the analysis revisited.”
“Simply put, the AirTrain is not ready for primetime,” she wrote, “and should not be funded by a congressional bailout.”
Some local elected officials are also opposed to the AirTrain project. At a virtual town hall last Monday, State Senator Jessica Ramos said East Elmhurst already faces many issues, including deep-seated food insecurity, the need for a health care clinic, and lack of transportation options.
“There are basic services needed in East Elmhurst,” she said. “We aren’t being given the resources our community needs to thrive.”
Ramos said that the FAA’s environmental impact study has not taken alternatives seriously, such as the extension of the N or W trains, which she said would leave less of an impact on the environment and would be more cost-efficient.
She added that the $2 billion project “isn’t doing anybody any favors except for the wealthy class.”
“Expect a big fight from me,” Ramos said. “We can’t allow for this AirTrain to be built in our backyards while our neighbors are starving, unable to pay rent and unable to access medicine.”
Comptroller Scott Stringer, who joined Ramos in the town hall, said he also has reservations about the project. Last June, he raised concerns about the capacity constraints that the proposed AirTrain would place on the surrounding subway, bus and commuter rail lines.
The comptroller also questioned the fares for the AirTrain, as well as the rising cost for the project.
“Given the budget deficit, this project really needs to be scrutinized,” Stringer said. “Is it worth $2 billion on a project that won’t save us much time getting to and from the airport?”
He added that it may be wiser to invest in the current subway and bus system.
“There’s so much more we can be investing in with the local community,” he said.
In a statement, Lindsay Kryzak, director of corporate communications for the Port Authority, responded that the request for $3 billion in direct federal aid is not about any one project. Rather, she said, it’s about the entire capital plan for the region’s recovery.
“It continues to be the height of irresponsibility to not have a rail link to LaGuardia Airport,” Kryzak said, “but that is not what our request is about.”
She added that the capital construction plan would deliver 21st century transportation infrastructure, create tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in contracting opportunities for MWBEs and local businesses, and fuel over $20 billion in public and private investment in the region.
“It’s hard to believe anyone would want to undercut our ability to contribute to the recovery,” Kryzak said.