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Biden administration approves controversial LaGuardia AirTrain project

A rendering of the proposed LaGuardia AirTrain. (Courtesy of Port Authority)

The federal government has given the green light for the $2.1 billion LaGuardia AirTrain project in which a light rail system will be constructed to connect the airport to the Willets Point transportation hub near Citi Field.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday, July 20, the approval by the Federal Aviation Administration that will allow a “reliable, efficient and affordable transit connector” to LaGuardia Airport, which is undergoing an $8 billion redevelopment.

“This is the culmination of years of advocacy by this administration and a key moment in our efforts to rebuild New York’s infrastructure for the future,” Cuomo said. “As we come out of the COVID crisis, our state and country have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in a resilient, transformative and interconnected future, and today’s announcement is a testament to our ‘all aboard’ commitment to seizing it in partnership with the Biden administration.”

The FAA issued its decision on the environmental review for the proposed construction of the AirTrain allowing the Port Authority to proceed with the controversial project.

“We thank the FAA for conducting an exhaustive and independent environmental review that benefited from extensive input and engagement from the public and local community during the two-year-long EIS process,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said. “LaGuardia Airport is the only major airport on the East Coast without a rail mass transit link, and it is way past time for that embarrassment to end.”

The FAA approval process was a turbulent one with opposition from state Senator Jessica Ramos, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a number of environmental groups and community organizations causing a delay in the final approval of the project.

Cotton said construction on supporting infrastructure is set to begin this summer, and the Port Authority will continue offering regular engagement opportunities for local residents throughout the construction period as well as regular updates on the project as well as progress on community benefit commitments.

“The LaGuardia AirTrain will provide a sustainable and reliable travel option to LaGuardia Airport. It will remove millions of vehicles from congested highways and local roads each year,” Cotton said. “The transformative AirTrain project will help drive the region’s economic recovery by creating 3,000 union construction jobs and more than $500 million in business contracting opportunities for minority and women owned businesses and local, Queens-based businesses. It also includes a historic investment of $50 million in the Malcolm X Promenade along Flushing Bay and other neighborhood parks. Additionally, the LaGuardia AirTrain includes a robust package of other community benefits, from investments in workforce development programs for local residents and strong hiring requirements, to STEM programming and college scholarships for local students.”

Ramos took to Twitter to voice her opposition to the news.

“This is a huge slap in the face by @NYGovCuomo to the residents of East Elmhurst. COVID has already taken a devastating toll on our neighbors,” Ramos tweeted. “The last thing we need is a multi-billion dollar vanity project that will further affect the health & well-being of our communities.”

QNS reached out to Ocasio-Cortez’s office for comment and is waiting for a response.

Meanwhile, the Queens Chamber of Commerce is applauding the FAA’s decision.

“This investment in LaGuardia Airport will catalyze economic activity that supports local businesses and local communities, and comes at a time when many small businesses in Queens are struggling to survive after a difficult year,” Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Grech said. “We are thankful to the Port Authority, and to all of the local business leaders, economic development groups, transportation advocates, labor unions and civic stakeholders who helped push this vital project forward.”

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