The $2.1 billion LaGuardia AirTrain project will not be derailed by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation amid the sexual harassment allegations made against him, according to the Port Authority, which confirmed with QNS that it plans to move forward with construction on the 1.5-mile-long light rail system connecting LaGuardia Airport to the transportation hub next to Citi Field in Willets Point.
“The Port Authority is committed to building both the new LaGuardia AirTrain and a new Newark Airport AirTrain as part of the agency’s priority to provide environmentally friendly mass rail transit links to its airports,” a Port Authority spokesman told QNS. “Both are priority projects in the Port Authority’s capital plan, which was approved by the board in September 2019.”
The Federal Aviation Administration gave the green light to the project last month, but the approval process was a turbulent one with objections raised by elected officials, community groups and environmental organizations, such as Riverkeeper. These critics were emboldened to learn that hours after Cuomo announced he would step down, dozens of Port Authority staff members demanded a halt to the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport and an investigation into “undue influence” from the governor’s office, according to the Daily News.
“For too long, Governor Cuomo and his staff have repeatedly pushed the agency to make non-transparent, politically motivated decisions, including decisions that squander the truth and money of our bondholders, customers and the general public,” they wrote and called on the Port Authority to “halt all projects pushed by Governor Cuomo’s office, particularly the LaGuardia AirTrain.”
Riverkeeper had raised numerous concerns about the project’s environmental review, which avoided consideration of potentially superior transit alternatives. If allowed to move forward, they said, AirTrain construction would require the condemnation of waterfront parkland along Malcolm X Promenade on Flushing Bay in East Elmhurst.
“It’s telling that even those within the ranks of the Port Authority are alleging undue influence over the project and calling it a waste of money,” Riverkeeper Senior Attorney Mike Dulong said. “That they had to wait until six years after it was initially proposed shows a culture of disingenuousness and fear of retaliation within the agency. It was brave of those staff members to come forward.”
While the Port Authority would not comment specifically on the letter to its executive director Rick Cotton, the spokesman said, “The policy of the Port Authority is that every concern reported by an employee is taken and treated seriously. This will be no exception.”
Cuomo was planning to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the construction of the project in the coming weeks. That plan was scuttled as he will instead resign on Aug. 24 and hand the reins of power to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.