Queens elected officials, Hochul call for alternatives to LaGuardia AirTrain

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

Elected officials and advocate groups gathered in Corona on Monday, Oct. 4 to call on Gov. Kathy Hochul to halt the LaGuardia AirTrain Project. 

The $2.1 billion project, a light rail system will be constructed to connect the airport to the Willets Point transportation hub near Citi Field, was proposed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But the project has been criticized by many Queens residents and local leaders, citing health and environmental impacts as well as a questionable approval process.

Supporters of the AirTrain say the project would create a fast route of 30 minutes or less between Manhattan and LaGuardia along the 7 train. 

State Senator Jessica Ramos said East Elmhurst has been hit incredibly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida. She argued that the last thing residents need is an AirTrain in their community. 

“No one can convince me that the LaGuardia AirTrain is the best response to any of the issues that plague our community,” Ramos said. “This project doesn’t serve our neighbors, nor does it actually provide a logical, climate-conscious solution to the problem it’s supposed to solve.”

Hochul released a statement Monday, Oct. 4 saying she asked Port Authority to “thoroughly examine” alternative mass transit options to reduce traffic and increase connectivity.

“We must ensure that our transportation projects are bold, visionary and serve the needs of New Yorkers,” Hochul said. ” I remain committed to working expeditiously to rebuild our infrastructure for the 21st century and to create jobs — not just at LaGuardia, but at all of our airports and transit hubs across New York.”

A Port Authority spokesperson referred QNS to statements made by Thomas Grech, the president and chief executive officer of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

Grech said the AirTrain is good for the environment. 

“By removing up to 10 million LaGuardia Airport passengers from cars, buses, taxis and for-hire vehicles, AirTrain would reduce traffic and the green-house gas emissions that cause climate change,” the statement said.

According to Grech, the AirTrain would not damage parks, instead create a  $50 million fund to improve the Malcolm X Promenade on Flushing Bay, where the project would be constructed. Other local parks would also receive funding and get 5,000 trees planted in nearby neighborhoods. 

Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, who represents the 35th District which includes LaGuardia Airport, said he has been negotiating this proposal and speaking with his constituents about the project for some time now. 

“I have been actively engaged with my community and with policy makers in Albany and at the Port Authority to find the best way to create a rail link to LaGuardia while protecting residents of my community who bear the brunt of airport traffic,” Aubry said. 

But Aubry said he supports the AirTrain because of the “ever-increasing traffic” in his area. 

“That’s only getting worse as air travel rebounds and the use of for-hire vehicles increases,” Aubry said. “The only answer is to move airport traffic from roads to rails.”

State Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris said that this AirTrain is over-budget and flawed.

“It’s time to hit pause on this idea and conduct a thorough analysis to decide on a route that provides fast, efficient transit to and from the airport, while enhancing rather than detracting from surrounding neighborhoods,” Gianaris said. 

However, Grech said the AirTrain would be a good investment, without taking any taxpayer dollars for the $2.05 billion capital cost. The project is projected to have a 50-year lifespan costing between $4.20 and $7 per rider. The project would also create 3,000 good-paying jobs, Grech said.

“LaGuardia AirTrain is the only rail alternative studied that would be built without taking any private property or crossing through residential or commercial neighborhoods in densely populated sections of Queens,” Grech said.

But elected officials are asking for more transparency and more community input at the very least.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo said any project of this magnitude should hear from the people before going forward. 

“We need to listen to the needs and wants of local residents, while working together to create an inclusive vision for improved transportation and accessibility,” Addabbo said.

In July, the federal government gave the green light for the project, following a two-year by the Federal Aviation Administration.