Ocasio-Cortez backs Queens groups asking that no federal relief be directed to LGA AirTrain

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a town hall. (QNS file photo by Max Parrott)

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released a statement backing Guardians of Flushing Bay, Queens Community Board 3, Ditmars Boulevard Block Association, Together We Can, and the COVID Care Network call to not provide federal COVID-19 relief funding for the LaGuardia AirTrain.

“The community surrounding LaGuardia was among the hardest hit by COVID-19, and many of its residents are now facing eviction or other serious economic consequences of the pandemic,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx. “These families have been crying out for relief for months. While state and local funding is desperately needed in the next COVID-19 relief package, it would be the ultimate insult to finally send aid to this community in the form of a project that they firmly oppose and that could further jeopardize their health and safety.”

AOC’s statement comes more than a month after the Queens groups sent a letter to state and federal legislators imploring them not to allow federal relief to be used for the controversial AirTrain, which the Port Authority is looking to construct from Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport terminals.

“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 groups previously wrote.

The LGA AirTrain project will cost about $2 billion. The Port Authority previously noted that they planned to apply for federal grants to fund part of the project.

Ocasio-Cortez echoed some of the Queens groups’ main points, such as the route that’s on the table may lead to overcrowding of the already overcrowded 7 train.

“The proposed Willis Point [sic] route is likely to lead to overcrowding on the 7 train, a concern the community has raised for years but which has gained additional urgency in a post-COVID-19 era,” she stated. “There are also valid ecological concerns about the construction through park and marshland that this route would require.”

One of the Queens groups’ main concern was in regards to 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,” their letter read.

Ocasio-Cortez also referenced the Federal Aviation Authority’s community study findings, in which they found 255 out of 414 comments were in opposition to that route after surveying community members at their heavily criticized public forums.

“Most importantly, however, is the general disregard for community input. Over half of the public comments submitted to this project opposed the AirTrain and yet this majority was utterly disregarded,” she stated. “Until such time as a new route is identified, or the community’s concerns are sufficiently alleviated, no federal COVID-19 relief funding should be granted to the Port Authority for the purpose of constructing the AirTrain.”

When asked for a response to the Congresswoman’s statement, Port Authority Director of Media Relations Lindsay Kryzack said “it’s unbelievable that any elected official from New York would be actively working against the state right now.

“The AirTrain will take cars off the road, reduce noise and pollution, and provide a long overdue rail link to Manhattan,” she stated in an email. “The Port Authority changed the proposed AirTrain route in response to community input at over two dozen meetings and will continue the extensive engagement as we move forward with this project.”

PA recently released their LGA memorandum signed by PA Director Rick Cotton and former Deputy Mayor for Housing an Economic Development Alicia Glen on March 2019. The memorandum was a condition before the AirTrain would begin construction, as required by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 legislation (Assembly Bill A11158), sponsored by Queens Assembly member Jeffrion Aubry.

The memorandum delineates PA’s commitment to spend about $35 million to improve the World’s Fair Marina Promenade, plant or fund the planting of 3,000 to 5,000 new trees within the promenade and other local areas, and provide temporary parking space for Citi Field, home of the Mets, and USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open.

The promenade’s improvements would be subject to community input. According to a PA spokesperson, they anticipate the community engagement for the promenade will begin in the fall of this year, following the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement by the FAA.

However, according to am New York, the transit agency is now considering stalling the project altogether due to months of loss of revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More from Around New York