By Bill Parry
As the LaGuardia Airport reconstruction project got underway June 1, some groundwork was laid for the proposed AirTrain that would bring travelers to and from Willets Point.
At the end of May, the MTA awarded a $7.5 million contract for preliminary engineering work at two stations, which is expected to be completed in a year, to pave the way for major enhancements at both and prepare the MTA to collaborate with the Port Authority as planning for the AirTrain moves forward.
The first contract, valued at $4.6 million, is for work at the Long Island Rail Road’s Mets-Willets Point Station and was awarded to STV Inc. The second contract is valued at $2.9 million and deals with the Willets Point Station on the No. 7 subway line. It was awarded to HDR Architecture and Engineering PC.
“The preliminary engineering work we’re doing at the two Willets Point stations is the first step in a plan to dramatically enhance both stations,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said. “It will also enable us to be ready to work with the Port Authority as planning for the LaGuardia AirTrain moves forward, which we see as critically important.”
The scope of the preliminary work will include plans for lengthening the LIRR station’s platform to accommodate 12-car-long trains for greater service capacity, as well as Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility.
For the modernized No. 7 subway station, the preliminary engineering work will set the stage for newly designed mezzanines with state-of-the-art electronics and communications, full ADA-compliant accessibility, and improved passenger flow for both events and normal service.
In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the $450 million project, whichwould build the 1.5-mile rail line to run alongside the Grand Central Parkway “so it wouldn’t create an undue burden on any of the neighboring structures.” He said the state had the cash to fund the project from sources, including a $5 billion windfall from settlements with big banks.
“You can’t get to LaGuardia by train,” Cuomo said. “That is inexcusable and that is going to change.”
It was not known when the construction of the AirTrain would begin, but a spokeswoman from the governor’s office suggested it would start towards the end of the $4.2 billion LaGuardia Airport reconstruction project.
“The proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport, similar to the existing one for JFK International Airport, will greatly improve access to the airport,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said. “The AirTrain will connect passengers and visitors directly with the 7 train line and the LIRR, and it would, hopefully, reduce traffic on the already congested roads and expressways.”
A Port Authority survey in 2008 showed that 75 percent of travelers from Manhattan used a taxi or car service to reach LaGuardia Airport while only 16 percent rode buses or shared a van.
“This is another step to bring our airport into the new century,” Peralta said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr