PA pushing AirTrain benefits, awaits FAA 1

With a ruling as close as two weeks away, the Port Authority is emphasizing the benefits the community can reap from an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport.

A final ruling on the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport is not due from the Federal Aviation Administration until at least the middle of this month.

And while FAA approval of the Port Authority’s environmental and remediation plans on March 15 certainly meant clearing a substantial hurdle, the agency is leaving nothing to chance.

The PA of New York and New Jersey this past week reiterated its stance that the project is necessary from a transportation standpoint, and will, if approved, bring major economic and educational benefits to East Elmhurst and surrounding neighborhoods.

“Among the many community benefits to come with AirTrain LaGuardia, the Port Authority has set a goal of hiring 80 percent of the project’s permanent workforce locally,” said a PA spokesman in an email to the Chronicle. “The success of local hiring at JFK AirTrain demonstrates the project’s potential to provide real economic benefits to the communities around LaGuardia, including local, Queens-based and [minority- and women-owned business enterprises]. The project will also fund investments in educational opportunities, community events and local parks.”

The aim is to speed up travel time between LaGuardia, which the PA operates, and both Midtown and Downtown Manhattan.

Numerous residents and environmental groups are opposed to the plan, which would create a rail loop connecting LaGuardia with a station that would be built adjacent to the elevated 7 train subway station at Mets-Willets Point.

The rail link also would be elevated and run along the Flushing Promenade, which critics say will take up parkland and destroy the view of the Promenade and Flushing Bay.

The PA said the project will deliver more than $500 million in contracting opportunities for firms in Queens, including MWBEs.

“The AirTrain project will create approximately 3,000 union construction jobs, with a focus on minority and women for construction opportunities,” the PA’s statement said.

There are plans to work with the Building & Construction Trades Council to fund 75 pre-apprentice positions; expand the LaGuardia career center operated by the Council for Airport Opportunities; and work with Elmcore and Queens Neighborhood Housing services to match area residents with permanent AirTrain and on-airport jobs.

Referring back to the original JFK AirTrain workforce from December 2003, the PA said 22 percent still remain on a force of 208; and that others have gone on to employment at other systems throughout the country and overseas.

The environmental plan approved by the FAA requires massive investment — more than $50 million — to upgrade the Promenade and other nearby parks. In addition, there must be constant monitoring for noise and pollution from the site. It also requires monitoring of vibrations from things like pile-driving operations like those that have damaged homes in East Elmhurst in connection with the separate $8 billion project to reconstruct LaGuardia.

The PA also has agreed to compensate homeowners whose property values would be negatively impacted by the loss of view caused by the elevated tracks.

Critics of the plan still are not satisfied.

And, like the PA, they are not waiting passively for the final FA ruling.

“We’re still going over the FAA’s environmental report and we’re finding deficiencies,” Rebecca Pryor, program coordinator for Guardians for Flushing Bay and Riverkeeper, told the Chronicle. She also said they are reviewing material she said they had to go to court to secure, including correspondence between the PA and FAA.

Pryor said her organizations and neighborhood groups including the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association and the Jackson Heights Beautification Group are planning an in-person and online town hall meeting along with state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-East Elmhurst) on April 6 to discuss issues and how to proceed.

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