Max Parrott/QNS
A resident speaks to FAA representative at the AirTrain public hearing in July.

On Monday Nov. 4, the Federal Aviation Authority released the results from a series of heavily criticized public forums, and ensuing comment period, over its plan to construct an automated AirTrain system from the Willets Point Long Island Rail Road station to LaGuardia.

The agency received feedback from 255 residents in opposition to the existing AirTrain plan and from 55 who support it. The criticism ranged from the process the agency chose for its environmental survey to how the proposed plan would cater toward more affluent communities, without benefitting local residents.

The most popular subtopic of the responses was the 7 Subway line. A total of 185 residents complained about the 7 train’s problems with capacity, overcrowding and deteriorating infrastructure.

The materials released by the FAA don’t make it abundantly clear whether these commenters are arguing that the AirTrain would or would not address this issue, but rather that residents argued these concerns should serve as the basis of whatever plan does come to fruition. 

Commenters did say that the train does not have the capacity to handle additional riders, specifically those with luggage.

The second most common subtopic was the socioeconomic impacts of the AirTrain. As a result of the large minority and low-income population in the neighborhoods surrounding LaGuardia, responders argued that those communities were being engaged in the survey process and benefitted in the long-term. 

Residents criticized the FAA for not doing enough to engage the community. They complained that the scoping materials were not presented in enough languages for the local community. 

They also pointed out that the area immediately south of the airport is located in a transit desert, which would be better served with a subway connection.

The other environmental objection to the plan focused on how the AirTrain’s route would impact the Flushing Bay, Flushing Bay Promenade and World’s Fair Marina. Responders were concerned that the project would cut off them off from these natural features and that the construction could contaminate them.

Image courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s report on LaGuardia transit alternatives

The feedback was not all negative though.

One popular alternative to the AirTrain plan involved an extension of the N/W subway from Astoria Boulevard Station. A total of 105 responders wrote about this in their responses — more than any other proposed alternative. This alternative involves the construction of an elevated subway structure on the Astoria Line that would provide bi-directional service along the residential neighborhood.

The responders pointed out that N/W line has greater capacity than 7 line and was recently renovated.

In response to the release of the scoping report, both the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) and Better Way to LGA coalition, released statements  that they welcome the feedback and will take into consideration as they move forward.

“A Better Way to LGA also looks forward to continuing the ongoing dialogue with the community as we learn more about the Port Authority’s vision to build this critical rail link without displacing any homes or businesses,” wrote Tom Grech, co-chair of A Better Way to LGA.

A spokesperson from the PANYNJ said that while the FAA’s environmental review included several community forums to date, there will be additional meetings with the public and elected stakeholders before the federal review is completed.

To view the entirety of the report, click here.

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