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Big Bucks At Work To Put Air Train On Track...& To Derail It – QNS.com

Big Bucks At Work To Put Air Train On Track…& To Derail It

Just as the controversial plan by the Port Authority to build a light rail train system from J.F.K. to Jamaica winds its way through the local Community Board approval process, it is becoming evident that this process is turning out to be lucrative to both opponents and supporters of the proposal.
The debate over the pros and cons of "AirTrain," as the project is officially called, is fast becoming a gravy train for local communities that would be impacted by the project and for small civic groups who oppose the train. On one side the Port Authority is doling out a whole series of expensive sweeteners to gain the support of community leaders and homeowners who are wary of the impact of the project on their areas both during its construction and its later operation. These include everything from a public waterfront park or a boat launch near J.F.K. at the foot of Lefferts Blvd. — a proposal long sought by South Ozone Park civic leaders — to funding aviation-related courses and projects at August Martin High School and York College to major improvements to the downtown Jamaica Center.
On the other side is the Air Transport Association, a national lobbying organization for the airline carriers in the U.S. The A.T.A. opposes the use of fees collected from airline passengers to construct AirTrain rather than using those monies for projects at the airport itself. The A.T.A. is helping to fund the local opponents with a massive professional public relations campaign. More than 100 Queens community organizations including the Queens Civic Congress, the Committee for Better Transit, the Concerned Neighbors of southeast Queens, the Mid-Queens Community Council and the South Ozone Park Coalition of Block Associations have been organized by the A.T.A. into a coalition group called CANT (Citizens’ Against the Nowhere Train). "It’s amazing to see these groups, the kind that are used to meeting in someone’s living room and operating on a budget of $10 collected from its members, suddenly being supported and supplied by big budget professionals," remarked one veteran City public relations man. "They suddenly are in the company of high powered, big-stakes power brokers," he added. CANT will be funded with professional advertisements, posters, t-shirts, buttons in a full-court campaign to kill the project. The group has labeled the proposed Van Wyck El that will connect the Jamaica LIRR-subway hub to the airport "The little train that can’t."
CANT has criticized the 3.1 mile Van Wyck El portion of the Port Authority’s rail link as a highly disruptive project that will harm the residents of Southeast Queens while failing to provide a one-seat ride between the Kennedy Airport and the Manhattan business district.
Under the Port Authority’s plan, airport travelers will switch from the Van Wyck El to the subway or LIRR at Jamaica Station. When travelers exit the subway or LIRR, they will make yet another transfer to a final subway, bus or cab.
Charles Lucas of the South Ozone Park Coalition of Block Associations said: "This train is a negative in every way — it can’t get you from the airport to Manhattan, it can’t reduce traffic and it can’t ever be transformed into a one-seat ride."
While the Port Authority has billed the rail link as the first step to a one-seat ride, the system will be incompatible with all other public transit systems according to CANT. The train will operate on linear induction motor technology, which is incompatible with conventional rotary motor technology, the operating system of the City’s transit systems.
"The Van Wyck El will stand some 25 feet above the LIRR station and more than 50 feet above the Sutphin Blvd. subway station at the Jamaica station. Given this design, it is impossible to physically connect it to the subway station or LIRR. What’s more, the train will be unattended — no conductor, no engineer," Lucas said.
"This train can’t solve New York’s airport access problem," said Roger Cohen of the A.T.A. "The billions of dollars it will cost should be spent fixing Kennedy and LaGuardia airports instead of being spent to disrupt Queens neighborhoods with no real benefits."
The Port Authority has recently funded a $45,000 contract to hire Edward Reed, an aide to the Rev. Floyd Flake, the powerful former St. Albans congressman, to build support in the community for the AirTrain. As the plan goes before Community Boards the P.A. is hearing pleas for amenities such as ballfields, landscaping, playgrounds, new streets and trees.
Downtown Jamaica has been promised big public works improvements which has won the plan the active support of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation.
The J.F.K. Airport Light Rail System to Jamaica Center "is both an efficient stand-alone system in itself and a first step toward an ambitious overall system, which is underway incrementally, and which will have enormous benefits for Queens," Carlisle Towery, President of Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, testified at a recent Community Board 9 meeting.
"AirTrain will provide Jamaica Center with unique and special new potentials for economic and community development, thereby strengthening the 30-year-old public-private partnership of business, community and government that has lifted Jamaica from economic trauma and has set this part of Queens on a promising course toward middle-income viability," Towery said.
The Port Authority campaign has appeared to be paying off. Both Community Boards 9 and 10 have given their approval to the project despite extreme community opposition, with Board 9 taking the rare action of voting down its own chairwoman. Board 12 held its hearing last week to an overflow audience most of whom came to oppose AirTrain. The Board adjourned putting off a vote until this Friday, a move that angered opponents who said they believe the Board wanted to play for time to arrange more votes in favor of the project.

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