FAA releases draft environmental impact statement for LGA AirTrain, opens virtual public comment period

Rendering of the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia. (Photo courtesy of governor's office)

The Federal Aviation Administration released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed LaGuardia Airport AirTrain, and has opened its public comment period on Friday, Aug. 21.

The website lists a total of five upcoming public workshops and hearings — which will not be held in person due to COVID-19 — within a three-day period. Information on how to register and comment on the project is available, including how residents can send on-the-record comments by U.S. Mail, email, and through a web comment form.

The virtual public comment period for the DEIS will be 45 days long, and will end Oct. 5 at 5 p.m.

There will be two public workshops on Tuesday, Sept. 22 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday, Sept. 22 from 7 to 9 p.m. with public hearings following after. There will be an additional public hearing from 2 to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24.

Individuals may register for the FAA’s Zoom Webinars, or tune in during the livestream on their YouTube and Facebook accounts.

The FAA notified the Queens Public Library that branches can download the DEIS documents for residents who are not online.

Residents without internet access can call the project hotline at (855) 542-3479 to submit formal comment on the project and/or receive a dial-in number to listen to the workshop or hearing of their choice.

The DEIS examines the potential environmental impacts of the proposed Access Improvement Project at LaGuardia Airport (LGA).

The study examined the current proposed plan of an above-ground automated people mover from Willets Point to LGA terminals. Specifically, it examined the air train with “three APM stations; passenger walkway and circulation systems connecting the APM stations to transportation facilities; an APM operations, maintenance, and storage facility and parking structure for airport, APM, and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) employees; three traction power substations; utilities infrastructure; and various connected actions to allow construction and operation of the proposed LGA Access Improvement Project.”

The 34-page long Executive Summary is divided into subheads detailing purpose and need of the project, the proposed action of the current plan, timeframe of the project, request for federal funding, alternatives actions (including the current plan, no action alternative, and other examined routes), affected environment, environmental consequences and cumulative impacts, among others.

The FAA is conducting the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the LGA AirTrain because the Port Authority plans to request funding for the AirTrain under the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) program. The FAA’s EIS study is in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), which requires the FAA to identify and publicly disclose the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo first proposed the people mover in 2015, which was then said to cost about $450 million; but the cost is now up to $2 billion.

The AirTrain has become a highly contested project within Queens grassroots organizations, but also has the support of economic organizations, including the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

In June, several local groups called for Congress not to direct COVID-19 federal stimulus funds for the Port Authority toward the project, with particular concerns over the project’s environmental impacts on the immediate community. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently voiced her agreement with the local groups, much of which are within her district.

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

The DEIS is available in full on the project’s website.

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