The Howard Beach AirTrain station will finally open later this year, according to Port Authority sources, but not everyone in the community is waiting with bated breath.
While Jamaica has staged an urban renaissance with the arrival of the $1.9-billion lightrail system, Old Howard Beach looks much the same as it did before the hulking terminal was built in a neighborhood of two-family homes and narrow one-way streets.
There are already traffic and sanitation problems because of the dozens of construction workers who are finishing the terminal, and local business owners only think those problems are only going to get worse.
“It’s a big mistake having a train go to the airport. The traffic is going to be worse, there’s no doubt about that. And it’s going to be filthier. You need about six garbage pails around here, stuff like that,” said Joe Denaro, manager of Howard Taxi, which is across the street from the station.
“There’s already a mess with the parking, and there’s going to be a major parking problem,” said Frank, a bartender at Morgan’s Pub, who only wanted his first name used.
The manager of the bar, Gene Faener, thinks he might get an upswing in business when the train opens. The Port Authority estimates there will be an immediate daily ridership of 11,000 people from the Howard Beach and Jamaica stations. “We’re expecting a few more people, and we’re hoping for a little more business,” he said.
Morgan’s recently began a renovation of its dining area, turning a small cafe into a restaurant, hoping to draw the AirTrain crowd, Faener said.
Denaro does not expect the rail line to increase business at the taxi service. “Suppose you live in Ozone Park and you have a family going to the airport. You’re going to have to call a car service to get here, and then you’re going to have to deal with bags. Plus, we take people to the airport for $13, so it won’t be much cheaper to take the AirTrain. I don’t think it is going to benefit anyone in here,” he said.
He also doubted that non-Queens residents would have much use for the AirTrain. “People who live in the city have to take the train to get here, and people who live on Long Island would have to take the LIRR to get to Jamaica. I don’t see much use for this.”
Pasquale DiFulco, a Port Authority spokesperson, confirmed that the AirTrain would open later this year and hoped the system would alleviate traffic, not cause it. “It’s designed to be a mass transit connection. The system is designed to get cars off the road,” he said.
He hopes traffic will be eased on the major arteries near the airport, especially the Van Wyck Expressway and the Belt Parkway.
“There’s no doubt that by increasing the mode of mass transportation, we will reduce emissions, and there will not be as much traffic.”
Stephen Marino, the president of the Howard Beach Civic Forum, lives three blocks from the station and has already noticed a lack of parking spaces in the area.
“When they were first doing specs for the AirTrain, I asked about the traffic. We get enough people here anyway. The big question is whether there is going to be an increase in both street parking here or just long-term parking,” he said.
He also wanted the Port Authority to make good on its promise to beautify the surrounding area by planting trees. “They said they would spruce up town, and I would like to see that happen.”
Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton said the Port Authority will repave the roads in the area, plant trees and help renovate the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Coleman Square.
She also said there will not be increased traffic in the area. “There is a concern that people will drive into Old Howard Beach to go to the airport, but in reality, unless you know how to get to Coleman Square, you will go to the airport at the Lefferts Boulevard Station.”
The Howard Beach line was supposed to open this summer, but work on the system was halted after Kelvin DeBourgh Jr. was killed during a test run of the train last September.
DeBourgh’s family filed a $200-million lawsuit last week against the Port Authority, Bombardier Transportation, the Canadian firm that built the AirTrain, and two subcontractors for subjecting DeBourgh to a test that was “designed to fail.”
DiFulco could not comment on pending litigation but confirmed that the Port Authority is planning a memorial in DeBourgh’s name.