An update on continuing government studies of the proposed LaGuardia AirTrain drew well over 100 people to the LaGuardia Airport Marriott hotel on Tuesday — but it did little or nothing to change the views of East Elmhurst homeowners and environmental groups opposed to the project.
The Federal Aviation Administration is studying the transportation, infrastructure and environmental impacts of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s proposal to build a $2 billion rail link between Willets Point and the airport.
The stated intention is to create a faster trip between LaGuardia and Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. The crux would be an AirTrain station where the No. 7 subway train and Long Island Rail Road meet at stations near Citi Field and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The proposed route would run just inside the parkway side of the Flushing Promenade.
No portion of the project can be built without the FAA signing off on it.
Tuesday’s meeting had posters and handouts at various stations where residents could speak with consultants about their concerns.
Examples were stations devoted to alternate proposals raised in the last several months by residents, including more frequent buses using dedicated bus lanes; ferries; and extending the existing elevated N subway line to the airport from its current terminus at Ditmars Boulevard. It included data as to why officials thus far have determined why the alternatives are less preferable or undoable.
Andrew Brooks of the FAA said a final draft report will be available this summer, after which there will be another round of public outreach and input.
Opponents gathered with signs outside the hotel ballroom.
“We gave them 47 alternatives that they just eliminated,” said Pat Phillips of East Elmhurst. She and her neighbor, Marie Gayle, said residents already have been inundated with noise and damage to their homes from construction already going on at the airport.
“And the pilings for [the AirTrain] would be even closer to our homes,” Gayle said.
Some options, like modifying bus routes such as the Q40 and Q23 were rejected as they would be reliant on existing roads and traffic conditions, thus not offering time certainty. Reworking the M60 and offering free rides on the Q70 airport run would not reduce the number of vehicle trips.
Ferries, the current study says, would leave riders too dependent on buses and traffic conditions on the Queens end. Extending the N Train from Astoria-Ditmars, the study found, would require modifications to and impact train service over the Hellgate Bridge, a vital link in the nation’s Northeast rail corridor.
Frank Taylor, president of the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association and a vocal opponent of the project, said Tuesday’s display was a farce.
“The scope of the study was underfunded — it’s too narrow,” Taylor said. “The FAA should have told the Port Authority to fund a full study or walked away. That’s what we should expect from a federal agency.”
But Brooks said residents themselves set the tone for the study.
“We based it on input from public outreach meetings we had last May and June,” he said. “We asked ‘What are your concerns?’ That’s how we set the scope.”
The opponents of the project last week got some support from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx, Queens), who posed several questions in a Jan. 10 letter to Philip Newman, assistant administrator for government affairs at the FAA.
“Out of 414 comments reported in the study, 255 were noted in opposition to that route,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “Furthermore, I find it concerning that 77 submitted form letters were counted as a single public comment, essentially denying a voice to the dozens of community members who took time out of their days to express their positions on this important issue.”
The congresswoman specifically requested further clarification on the decisions to eliminate as options ferries, bus lanes, the N train extension and an AirTrain system running over parkways beginning at the Woodside LIRR/subway complex.
Brooks said the FAA is in the process of drafting a response to the letter.