Just prior to a well-publicized outdoor press conference on Monday featuring opponents of the LaGuardia AirTrain, Gov. Hochul announced that she directed the Port Authority to examine alternatives that get more people to and from the airport while also getting them out of their cars and onto mass transit.
But many of the participants were just as interested in what Hochul’s statement did not say as what it did.
“New Yorkers deserve world-class transportation to world-class airports,” the governor said, according to her statement. “I have asked the Port Authority to thoroughly examine alternative mass transit solutions for reducing car traffic and increasing connectivity to LaGuardia Airport.
“We must ensure that our transportation projects are bold, visionary, and serve the needs of New Yorkers. I remain committed to working expeditiously 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.”
The $2.1 billion loop would link LaGuardia with a new station built adjacent to the Mets-Willets Point station for the No. 7 train. The PA has said it is necessary to speed up travel between LaGuardia and Manhattan.
Critics believe options like bus service and extending the elevated N/W subway line from Astoria were deliberately ignored.
Newsday has reported that the Federal Aviation Administration, which approved the plan’s environmental review in July, could take another look.
Monday’s press conference on the Malcolm X Promenade was set up last week by State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Jackson Heights). Speakers outside the World’s Fair Marina Restaurant included elected officials, residents and environmental activists.
Ramos and others said simply examining other options is not enough. She called on Hochul to stop the project altogether.
“This community has suffered a lot,” Ramos said of East Elmhurst. “[ZIP code] 11369 was the epicenter of Covid; 11369 was the epicenter of flooding in Ida ... There are better ways to spend $2 billion in this community.”
Ramos and others said the community would have to bear the brunt of the construction; and fear that it would only bring more cars and traffic from people parking in the area to catch the ride to LaGuardia.
“We get substandard health, substandard transportation and substandard access to our waterfront,” she said.”
Deputy State Sen. Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), came out against the project last week, as did state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Mayor de Blasio. Comrie is an important ally, serving as chairman of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions.
Gianaris pointed out that the $2.1 billion cost is roughly quadrupled from the initial estimate of $450 million. Speaking with the Chronicle before the press conference, Gianaris acknowledged that Hochul’s directive on alternatives could interpreted different ways.
“What’s also important is what was not said — ‘Go ahead full speed,’” he said.
Gianaris was a frequent sparring partner of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom several speakers have long accused of ramming the AirTrain proposal through.
Frank Taylor, president of the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association, said the project would only exacerbate environmentally caused instances of illness in the largely Black and brown community, while doing nothing to alleviate the neighborhood’s public transportation.
“We have high levels of asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer,” Taylor said. “It’s about environmental justice.” Comrie, whose Southeast Queens district is every bit the transit desert as East Elmhurst, echoed both sentiments when he spoke.
Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas (D-East Elmhurst) called it “a $2.1 billion vanity project” for Cuomo.
Other speakers included state Sens. John Liu (D-Bayside) and Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing), Mike Dulong from Riverkeeper, Rebecca Pryor from Guardians of Flushing Bay and mass transit advocates.
The project still has considerable backing, starting with the Port Authority, which maintains that the elevated line is needed to speed up travel between Manhattan and LaGuardia; and that among participants in community hearings and outreach sessions approval ran at about 80 percent.
The PA is forecasting 3,000 good-paying construction jobs and more than $500 million in opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses; and provide $50 million in upgrades for the promenade and for local parks, all without taking any private property or going through any neighborhood.
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona), in a statement sent out by his office, also was standing firm.
“Unlike some of the elected officials just now speaking up about the project, I have been actively engaged with my community and with policy makers in Albany and at the Port Authority to find the best way to create a rail link to LaGuardia while protecting residents of my community who bear the brunt of airport traffic,” he said.
The assemblyman said he insisted that the line be moved from the middle of the Grand Central Parkway to increase distance from neighborhoods.
“And [traffic] only is going to get worse as air travel rebounds and the use of for-hire vehicles increases,” Aubry continued. “The only answer is to move airport traffic from roads to rails.”
A Better Way to LGA, a coalition of community members, economic development groups, construction and other labor unions and others that includes the Queens Chamber of Commerce. The group has pointed out that LaGuardia is the only major airport on the East Coast that does not have a direct rail link.