Opponents of the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport are hoping to engage a higher power as they await a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration — namely U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
The secretary’s name was brought up Tuesday evening at a town hall meeting with attendees both at Flushing Bay at the World’s Fair Marina Restaurant and on Zoom. The meeting was hosted by state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-East Elmhurst), the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association and the Sensible Way to LGA Coalition.
Frank Taylor, president of the block association, said more than 100 attended either virtually or in person.
“This plan is destructive at its best and ludicrous at its worst,” he said.
The Port Authority, with Gov. Cuomo’s enthusiastic backing, is looking to build a rail loop between the airport and a station that would be built near the No. 7 subway stop at Willets Point-Mets.
It would run along the Flushing Promenade, taking up some parkland and disrupting the view of the park and Flushing Bay with tracks perhaps 30 feet in the air.
The PA’s intention is to speed up travel time between LaGuardia and both Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. Critics of the plan say there are less expensive and less environmentally intrusive options, such as expanded bus service or extending the existing N/W elevated subway line from its terminus at 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria to the airport.
The FAA last month approved the PA’s environmental study and mitigation plan. It could issue a final decision as early as April 14.
“I’m a resident. I pay my taxes,” Taylor said. “I believe we deserve better ... We’re going to spend $2.5 billion on an AirTrain that does not serve the community?”
Ramos, speaking from her office in Albany, said the residents must be prepared to do more than sign petitions and call their elected officials.
“Our community needs to organize over this issue,” the senator said. “This is a vanity project for the governor that does nothing to address the needs of our community.”
Ramos said she favors extending the N/W line.
Mike Dulong, senior attorney at the environmental group Riverkeeper, outlined points he made in a letter to Buttigieg dated Tuesday. He said first that the studies and public hearing process were flawed as there was not sufficient outreach to the multiple communities where English is not the first language.
He also said the analysis of alternatives proposed for the environmental impact study had any option but an AirTrain “set up to fail.”
He also said the PA’s commitment to upgrade and maintain the promenade falls short at $16.5 million, though the PA says the number is $50 million over 15 years for the Promenade and other parks in the area.
Rebecca Pryor of Riverkeeper and Guardians of Flushing Bay encouraged people to send an email to Buttigieg at firstname.lastname@example.org and to call the FAA comment hotline on the project at 1 (855) LGA-EIS9 (542-3479).
A PA spokesman on Wednesday morning responded to a number of points that Riverkeeper made.
“The FAA conducted a thorough process that resulted in a 600-page environmental impact statement that appropriately and independently examined all alternatives and ultimately identified the Port Authority’s proposed route as the preferred alternative for bringing mass rail transit to LaGuardia Airport,” the spokesman said in an email.
“AirTrain LaGuardia will significantly reduce traffic congestion on local streets and highways, and the project will provide a robust package of public benefits identified by residents in the neighboring communities — from local workforce development to education, public art and a $50 million investment in the Flushing Bay Promenade and other local parks.”