AirTrain plan clears environmental bar 1

The Port Authority proposal to run an AirTrain between LaGuardia Airport and the Mets-Willets Point subway station jumped a major hurdle Monday, with the Federal Aviation Administration signing off on its environmental impact proposals

An environmental study released Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration appears to have cleared the way for construction of an AirTrain route to and from LaGuardia Airport.

In signing the document approved, David Fish, director of the Office of Airports for the FAA’s Eastern Region, wrote that “after careful and thorough consideration of the facts contained herein ... [I find] that the proposed Federal action is consistent with existing national environmental policies and objectives ... of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.”

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is seeking to build the link between LaGuardia and the Mets-Willets Point stop on the No. 7 subway line, needs FAA approval in order to access federal airport improvement funds.

The agency, with Gov. Cuomo’s backing, says the project is needed to decrease travel time between LaGuardia and Midtown and Downtown Manhattan.

Residents in and around East Elmhurst and environmental organizations have opposed the plan, which would construct the elevated rail along the Flushing Promenade.

Their objections include loss of parkland, the impact of noise, vibrations and traffic during construction, and the visual impact of a raised structure along the Promenade and Flushing Bay.

The FAA is expected to issue its final record of decision in 30 days. If approved, major construction is expected to begin in March 2022, with limited work beginning as early as this June. It is estimated that the system would be fully operational by December 2025.

The entire 628-page report, including a 46-page executive summary, can be read or downloaded online at lgaaccesseis.com.

The PA, in a statement, was pleased with the ruling.

“In the EIS, the FAA reaffirmed its endorsement of the Port Authority’s proposed alignment as its preferred alternative based on the FAA’s independent and comprehensive review of the project and all alternatives,” a spokesman said. “This milestone represents a very important step forward in building a rapid, reliable, and sustainable rail mass transit link to the airport.”

The spokesman also referred to the community benefits that will become part of the project to address impacts and to respond to concerns raised by area residents.

“[I]n direct response to public comment and community recommendations, the project now includes more than $50 million in commitments to transformational investments in the Flushing Bay Promenade and other local parks,” the spokesman said. “These investments include funding for long-term operation and maintenance of the Promenade, as particularly requested by the community, as well as capital improvements.”

He added that the project will create 3,000 construction jobs and $500 million in contracting opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses as well as contracting opportunities for Queens-based companies. The project will fund investments in workforce development, educational opportunities, and community events.

In an email to the Chronicle on Tuesday, Rebecca Pryor, program coordinator for the groups Riverkeeper and Guardians of Flushing Bay, said they remain opposed.

“FAA has dug its heels in, refusing to meaningfully evaluate all but one politically expedient airport transportation alternative — the one that cuts between an environmental justice community and its waterfront park,” Pryor wrote.

The PA spokesman said the project received strong support from a range of people from local community leaders and former transportation officials to civic, business and labor organizations.

“Based on the final EIS, more than 75 percent of all the comments filed supported the project moving forward and, of those who expressed an opinion in support of or opposed to the project during the FAA’s public comment process, more than 90 percent supported the project,” he said.

Pryor said all independent transit experts who have examined the issue believe there are better options, such as improving the bus network or extending the elevated N/W subway line that now terminates in Astoria at 31st Avenue and Ditmars Boulevard.

Aside from saying her organizations will not stop supporting “local watershed communities” Pryor also stated she is unimpressed by the “pittance” that the FAA would require of the Port Authority for park mitigation.

“[The] FAA mandated that Port Authority only spend a minimum of $16.5 million to mitigate the harm caused to the Flushing Bay Promenade by the AirTrain’s overhead presence,” she wrote. “Residential developments in New York that don’t result in parkland alienation are routinely required to spend more than double that to refurbish neighborhood parks of the same size. Our communities and the ecology deserve better and we will continue to demand better.”

The FAA ruling lists a number of steps that the PA and its contractors must take to alleviate noise and vibrations from the construction process. The authority also would be required to hire a professional monitor.

The study identified private properties where the PA would be required to conduct pre-construction inspections on houses and foundations in the event of damage.

In regard to residents who would permanently lose their existing views of the Promenade and the bay, the PA has committed to hiring real estate appraisers for the purpose of compensating the homeowners for any related decrease in property values.

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