Residents host their own LGA AirTrain forum
by Benjamin Fang
Jun 18, 2019 | 6722 views | 0 0 comments | 588 588 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Residents were angry earlier this month when they learned that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s public scoping meetings for the LaGuardia AirTrain project were workshops rather than public forums.

So last Thursday at the World’s Fair Marina restaurant they decided to host one themselves.

The “Sensible Way to LGA” coalition organized a “People’s Hearing,” inviting the community to share their thoughts on the proposed rail line from Willets Point to the newly renovated airport.

“We were hoping the FAA would hold a public hearing where neighbors could hear concerns,” said Michael Dulong, a senior staff attorney with the environmental group Riverkeeper. “We’re disappointed by their failure to do so.”

A few dozen residents attended to express their concerns and questions, which were recorded and submitted to the FAA. The deadline for public comment on the scoping was June 17 at 5 p.m.

In his testimony, Dulong called for a “full environmental review,” including looking at real alternatives and the impact the project would have on local communities.

“If they’re going to do this, they have to do it right,” he said.

Dulong suggested two alternatives that would “potentially benefit New Yorkers even more” than the AirTrain.

The first is a “no-build” scenario that would focus on creating a bus-exclusive roadway, expanding additional express routes from Manhattan, and optimizing service. That scenario could possibly include ferry service from Manhattan as well.

The second alternative he supports is expanding the N and W subway lines to the airport, which would provide a “more direct route” to LaGuardia rather than stopping at Willets Point.

The attorney said the FAA should also focus on potential environmental impacts, such as inhibiting access to the World’s Fair Marina, where residents run, row dragon boats and enjoy the waterways.

“This route would cut off more than a quarter of the promenade in this area that’s starved for parkland,” he said.

Dulong added that the marina was flooded during Sandy, so the FAA should consider if the AirTrain project will impact that. He suggested a design of the project that is resilient against flooding.

Nuala O’Doherty, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group and a member of Community Board 3, said for decades neighbors have put up with the traffic, noise and vibrations from the airport, especially during construction.

But they withstood it because they understood the importance of LaGuardia for the entire region.

“What I would like to see is LaGuardia be a good neighbor and to consider their neighbors, not just the fate of passengers,” she said.

O’Doherty also expressed support for an extension of the N/W lines, which would effectively be a one-seat subway ride to the airport.

She proposed that the line should go past Ditmars to the Con Edison plant, then turn and go toward LaGuardia. The MTA could then add a subway stop in northern Jackson Heights.

“It would add subway service in much-needed areas like East Elmhurst and northern Jackson Heights,” she said.

She acknowledged that it would be expensive, but noted that “it’s desperately needed.”

Pat Beckles, a member of the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association, said in her testimony that neighbors have endured structural damage from the LaGuardia reconstruction project.

“The piling is going on all hours of the night, and some people’s houses are vibrating,” she said. “If the AirTrain gets built, the piling will get even closer to our residents.”

Beckles also raised concerns with the capacity of the 7 train, which is “overburdened” and “falling apart.” Adding even more passengers carrying luggage to the train would not work, she said.

Her suggested alternative was a ferry service, which she deems to be the least expensive.

“It won’t affect anyone’s structural dwellings,” Beckles said. “It’s just a no-brainer.”

Not all of the participants staunchly opposed the AirTrain. Richard Vagge, a longtime neighborhood activist in Jackson Heights, said he wants to see what the balance of the project will be.

“The balance we have to look at is the taxpayer benefit and residents affected versus accessibility and convenience for what I would assume is mostly tourists and businessmen,” he said.

He said it was important to look at who will be riding the AirTrain to determine that balance.

Vagge also noted that LaGuardia is competing against Newark and Kennedy airports, the latter of which already has an AirTrain and is also undergoing a multi-billion dollar overhaul.

He still has many questions about the project, including the potential use of eminent domain, final cost, government subsidies and how loud the train will be.

“The type of investment the Port Authority is making,” he said, “there’s got to be an incentive to make it more accessible and convenient.”
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