When former Gov. Andrew Cuomo renewed his push to build the controversial $2.1 billion LaGuardia AirTrain last spring, state Senator Jessica Ramos drew a line in the sand. Cuomo wanted to move the project forward during the COVID-19 pandemic to take advantage of reduced traffic and travel volume at the airport.
Speaking at a town hall meeting in April 2021, Ramos blasted Cuomo and his proposal one year after the pandemic ravaged her district.
“My neighbors need a hospital. They need good jobs so that they can put food on their tables,” Ramos said. “We can’t eat the AirTrain.”
One year later, Gov. Kathy Hochul has put the brakes on the LaGuardia AirTrain project and instead announced during her State of the State address Wednesday, Jan. 5, that the MTA would move forward with a shorter version of the Regional Plan Association’s Interborough Express, which would activate a long-dormant 14-mile freight rail line connecting Queens and Brooklyn.
Hochul directed the agency to identify the best mode of transportation — heavy or light rail or rapid bus transit — that would provide faster commutes to tens of thousands of Queens residents living in Ridgewood, Middle Village, Maspeth, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.
“The proposed revival of at least part of the Regional Plan Association’s Triborough Express tells me that my community was heard in our rally against the LaGuardia AirTrain,” Ramos said. “After I organized support from my colleagues in the Senate, the governor paused the plan and now has offered an exciting, viable solution to address the transit deserts that plague Queens and Brooklyn. I applaud the governor’s willingness to take on big infrastructure projects.”
Each day, more than 100,000 commuters make daily trips within or across Queens and Brooklyn, often relying on buses that get caught in traffic along a tangled and crowded street network, according to the governor’s office, which added that the Interborough Express would provide end-to-end travel time in less than 40 minutes.
“The overall health of any urban community, especially one as large and diverse as Queens, is heavily dependent on the reliability of its public transportation system. But for too many Queens families and the communities they call home, the inability to travel between boroughs in a quick and efficient manner has been an unnecessary detriment to their economic vitality,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “By transforming the existing freight line running between Bay Ridge and Jackson Heights into a public transit option, we can connect thousands of Queens and Brooklyn families to new employment opportunities in each borough, while dramatically cutting commute times in the process.”
If adopted, Interborough Express would improve transit and job access to underserved communities along the corridor that is currently home to 900,000 residents and 260,000 jobs, according to the governor’s office.
Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech and his Brooklyn counterpart Randy Peers put out a joint statement calling the proposal a win-win for both boroughs.
“The plan is a critically important opportunity that will create efficient and safe transit modes to connect neighborhoods and business districts that for far too long have been isolated by transportation deserts, while at the same time making New Yorkers less reliant on congestion-causing cars, equally benefiting our economy and environment,” they said. “We look forward to working with the Hochul administration, the MTA, public agencies and elected officials to expedite the planning and review process to make this a reality as quickly as possible.”
While waiting to see more details on the project, Councilman Robert Holden likes the idea of transit options for his constituents in Ridgewood, Middle Village and Maspeth.
“Since much of our district is a virtual public transit desert, it’s exciting to revisit this idea,” Holden told the New York Post. “More transportation would be very helpful. We need a thorough study.”
But Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who represents much of western Queens and lives in Ridgewood herself, remains “deeply concerned” over the proposal.
“It is unfortunate that no one briefed our office or community,” Nolan said. “I opposed the privatization of the Long Island Freight Line many years ago, and there continues to be serious safety concerns. I want to ensure those I represent are included in the process, as they understand transportation needs between the boroughs better than any plan coming from Albany. I would oppose this project at this time but, of course, await information from our governor as to her vision to address the critical needs of Queens.”