Queens groups ask Congress to reject stimulus package for Port Authority

Environmentalists speak out against proposed LaGuardia AirTrain
Rendering of the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia. (Photo courtesy of governor’s office)

The Guardians of Flushing Bay, along with Community Board 3, Ditmars Boulevard Block Association, Together We Can and COVID Care Neighborhood Network, are asking New York’s state Legislature to reject the Port Authority’s request for federal stimulus so as to not fund the controversial LaGuardia AirTrain.

The New York-New Jersey Port Authority recently called on Congress to provide them with a $3 billion bailout in direct federal funds, citing a 97 percent plunge in airport traffic and 95 percent plunge in PATH ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency said it needs the funds to ensure it can advance its $20 billion capital program.

In turn, the Queens groups’ letter calls attention to the LaGuardia AirTrain — a $2 billion project proposed by Port Authority and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to build a rail from Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport terminals — that has received much scrutiny from community members and some local elected officials.

“Guardians of Flushing Bay respectfully requests that Congress reject the New York-New Jersey Port Authority’s request for funding for the misguided proposed LaGuardia AirTrain project,” their letter read. “While some of this funding may be critical to stabilize Port Authority operations, no funding should be provided to the AirTrain; the AirTrain is an unnecessary boondoggle that will hamper economic recovery in our watershed, a region in Northern Queens that has been heavily impacted by COVID-19.”

The letter mainly warns of the environmental impact the project’s current route may have on the community.

“The route would obstruct a significant portion of the historic World’s Fair Marina Promenade and hinder bay visibility and park access in East Elmhurst, a middle-income community of homeowners of color that has a dearth of available open space,” the letter read. “The way that the pandemic is reverberating in our watershed is a warning for the impact that any environmental crisis could have in vulnerable communities where resilience, equitable accessibility to resources and environmental quality have not been prioritized.”

The letter states that the neighborhoods that will be most impacted by the project — College Point, Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Flushing — instead need investment to “keep our neighbors in their homes and save small businesses, restaurants, and retail.”

It also references Cuomo’s response to a New York Daily News reporter, in which he said to “forget your transit experts,” in defense of the AirTrain’s current plan rather than an extension of the N line that many advocates say would create a one-seat ride to the airport and won’t cost an extra fare.

“The wake of the initial impact of COVID-19 is not an opportunity to force through pet projects; this is a moment to prioritize community resilience and transit equity,” the letter read. “Simply put, the AirTrain is not ready for primetime and should not be funded by a congressional bailout.”

In response to Guardians of Flushing Bay’s letter, Director of Corporate Communications for the Port Authority Lindsay Kryzak said their request won’t go to any specific project.

“Our request for $3 billion in direct federal aid is not about any one project; it is about our entire capital plan contributing to the region’s recovery,” Kryzak told QNS. “It continues to be the height of irresponsibility to not have a rail link to LaGuardia Airport, but that is not what our request is about. In addition to delivering 21st century transportation infrastructure, the capital construction plan will create tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in contracting opportunities for M/WBEs and local businesses, and fuel over $20 billion in public and private investment in the region — key components of a strong recovery. It’s hard to believe anyone would want to undercut our ability to contribute to the recovery.”

The Port Authority maintains that the project will bring necessary economic development to Queens. In an interview with QNS earlier this year, the Port Authority’s Executive Director Rick Cotton said they’ve made adjustments to the plan after receiving feedback from community members, such as re-alining the path of the AirTrain from the middle of Grand Central Parkway to its northern edge and a new waterfront promenade.

Currently, the project is undergoing the environmental impact study phase, which is being conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration. When asked if the study has been impacted by the pandemic, a Port Authority spokesperson said it continues on schedule and a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for public review and comment will be released at the end of August.

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