Governor Hochul on Monday ordered the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to find alternatives to the LaGuardia AirTrain ‘upside down’, the little-loved scramble / pet project of its disgraced $ 2 billion predecessor of dollars.
“I asked the port authority to thoroughly examine alternative transit solutions to reduce car traffic and increase connectivity at LaGuardia Airport,” Hochul said of the elevated shuttle project. of 1.5 miles, which has earned the nickname “backwards” for its detours. a route that takes passengers bound for Manhattan further east to Willets Point in Queens and also hinders potential Long Island Rail Road customers, who are expected to make multiple transfers.
“We need to make sure our transportation plans are bold, visionary, and meet the needs of New Yorkers,” Hochul continued. “I remain committed to working quickly 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 City.”
The (perhaps flabbergasted) Port Authority had no immediate response to Hochul’s break with the past, referring reporters to statements made by its executive director (and the rest of the Cuomo administration) Rick Cotton, Last Thursday at his regular board meeting, where Cotton was “Yes, Ma’am” -ing his new boss.
“I have had communications and conversations with Governor Hochul as she indicated,” Cotton said. “She asked for more conversations. And of course, we’ll answer all of her questions and engage with her as much as she wants. “
Hochul’s latest statement came hours before opponents of AirTrain, including State Senators Jessica Ramos and Leroy Comrie, both Democrats from Queens, organized a rally to oppose AirTrain and, as as such, are shaking the world of transport in New York. The Federal Aviation Administration – in a process some have instructed was set on Cuomo’s behalf – ruled out 47 potential alternatives in July. These alternatives included an extension of Metro N, a ferry, dedicated bus lanes (five buses already go to LaGuardia) and a variety of others.
The AirTrain route – connecting the airport to stations 7 and LIRR at Mets / Willets Point along Grand Central Parkway and Flushing Bay Promenade – has long been angered by the inconvenience of these cumbersome connections, away from transit hubs, such as the LIRR Jamaica station or the MTA’s Roosevelt Avenue / 74th Street station in Jackson Heights.
“The layout is like spaghetti. We never liked the project. People want to go to New York without having to sweat, and there are better options, ”Comrie told Newsday.
For years, project proponents could fall back on federal law that prohibited the use of passenger installation fees collected from airport users for off-airport improvements. But earlier this year, in one of the latest acts of the Trump administration, the FAA paved the way for the use of these air passenger charges on “rail lines that do not exclusively serve the airport” – a decision that opened up other possibilities.
The New York Post initially headlined its break-up story that Hochul unplugged Cuomo’s project, but opponents of AirTrain have reacted with more caution.
“It’s a big move in the right direction,” tweeted Ramos, who urged Hochul to go further and block the project. “The next step is to define more clearly what this means in practice. Does this mean that the PA will have to produce a new environmental impact study? What about the FAA, where employees have raised concerns about the approval process? She was referring to stories that highlighted concerns expressed in FAA documents that the port authority was not entirely open about its plans for development around the AirTrain station.
-Jessica Ramos (@jessicaramos) September 30, 2021
The environmental group Riverkeeper and some local nonprofits recently sued the FAA to stop construction of the AirTrain while the court considered its petition, prompting the FAA to consider a delay, Newsday reported. Watchdog Reinvent Albany, for its part, showed that the price per trip of the project was exorbitant, and underlined a first point raised by Streetsblog, that the AirTrain would be “an extremely expensive shuttle service for the employees of the airport which park their cars, long term parking lots, rental car customers and taxi depots ”that would not clear the streets of as many cars as advertised. Preliminary construction of the AirTrain was supposed to have started in the summer, but it is not known if it took off; the Port Authority refused to answer questions on this matter.
John Orcutt, one of the co-authors of the Reinvent Albany analysis, made no secret of his skepticism about Hochul’s statement:
Left to his own devices, hard to see the PA come up with anything other than building their own damn train – an AirTrain type shuttle with expensive transfers / transfer stations, separate fares. Government order telling PA / MTA to make a joint project would be a huge step forward
– Jon Orcutt (@jonorcutt) October 4, 2021
“Gov. Calling Hochul is the right first step in producing a more useful transit connection through Queens and to the airport, but it’s the easiest part, ”added transit analyst Ben Kabak. , whose Second Avenue Sagas blog – along with Streetsblog – presented reviews and proposed alternatives to the project. “The difficult part is moving forward on another plan that improves access to underserved areas of Queens while also building political support for this plan. While I’m happy to see the Governor reevaluating the “AirTrain upside down”, the hardest part is creating the moment for a better project.
The AirTrain, of course, always has supporters. The Regional Plan Association, which has long supported the project, says AirTrain offers “benefits for the whole region” and has reinforced “the need to invest in critical infrastructure like this.” Assembly member Jeffrion Aubrey, who drafted the original legislation that condemned the Flushing Bay waterfront park for the AirTrain, sent reporters a letter insisting he would remove cars from local streets.
The mayor of Blasio straddled the fence. When asked why the administration just isn’t saving the state $ 2 billion by creating dedicated LaGuardia buses along the Q70 and M60-SBS lines, city hall spokesman Mitch Schwartz, declined to comment. Instead, Schwartz delivered a few remarks from the mayor last week.
“I think the project has virtues, but my question has always been: is there a better way to give people a more direct ride to the airport that would be even more appealing and entice more and more people? to use public transport? De Blasio told reporters at a press conference. “Let’s do this assessment now. It doesn’t have to take forever. Let’s reassess it and see if there is a better way. If there isn’t, go for the original plan. But it’s not, you know, it’s not an Imperial building project anymore. Now this can be looked at objectively.