By Bill Parry
The Port Authority agreed to provide $55 million towards the planned AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport connecting with the Willets Point station. The money will go towards technical planning, design and the environmental review process.
“The actual alignment is still under discussion, but it is still going to Willets Point and the framework is it would be under a half hour from Midtown to LaGuardia,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said Nov. 16 following a unanimous vote by board members. “The point of phase two planning is to finish the analysis and to consider the pros and cons of the alignment and to get into all the issues that we’re raising. We’re working on that and all points of view will be considered. That’s the point of the planning process.”
The Port Authority had already allocated $20 million towards the $1 billion project backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“This has to get done right,” Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole said. “To think there isn’t an AirTrain or direct rail and we’re the only ones in the country (without one) so frankly it’s embarrassing. We’re behind the eight ball and we have to move.”
O’Toole grew irritated when a reporter asked why there were no questions from board members after a brief presentation before voting.
“There’s a lot of discussion internally,” O’Toole said. “To think we would just willy-nilly vote on any expenditures is probably a wildly inaccurate characterization.”
The Port Authority board also heard from several airport workers demanding better pay and safety at LaGuardia and JFK International airports.
“The Port Authority board should be setting the standard to ensure all subcontractors pay living wages and benefits that will help make our airports safer and run smoother and faster for passengers,” 32BJ President Hector Figueroa said. “With good jobs that help workers stay in their jobs longer and training so they know how to prevent and react to emergencies, we can make NYC-area airports more secure, more efficient and more pleasant for the millions of passengers that pass through them each year.”
The Port Authority promised a better wage and benefits plan for the 40,000 contracted airport workers in 2014 and while progress has been made, it has not been completely implemented.
“I have worked as a security officer at JFK for nine years and with my long experience, I know what to look for to keep passengers safe,” Saeed Bacchus said. “But I’m struggling to support my family on this salary and without benefits. Few of my colleagues stay on the job for very long and we could really use people with more experience like me. But as a father and grandfather, I know how hard it is to make ends meet on these wages. That’s why we need the Port board to set a standard for living wages and benefits so that workers can support their families, stay on the job and make our airports safer.”
O’Toole said the airport worker’s comments were heart-wrenching and made an impact on the board.
“We’re taking all those comments into consideration and I suspect we will have a robust discussion in the near future about the points that were made and the requests that were made,” O’Toole said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr