By Evan Triantafilidis
Transportation advocates have called on Governor Kathy Hochul to halt the proposed 1.5-mile elevated railway system between LaGuardia Airport and Willet Point, better known as the LaGuardia AirTrain.
Now many of the borough’s elected officials are joining the call to halt the project, which was a priority of Governor Andrew Cuomo before he was forced to resign from office amid scandal.
First proposed six years ago, the project had an estimated cost of $450 million, but that price tag had increase five times over since then. The plan received final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration in July, just before Cuomo left office.
Just hours before some of the borough’s elected officials were to hold a press conference calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to stop the project, their office released a statement regarding transportation to LaGuardia Airport, without specifically mentioning the AirTrain, but offering to review alternatives to the plan.
“New Yorkers deserve world-class transportation to world-class airports”, Hochul’s statement read. “I have asked the Port Authority to thoroughly examine alternative mass transit solutions for reducing car traffic and increasing connectivity to LaGuardia Airport. We must ensure that our transportation projects are bold, visionary, and serve the needs of New Yorkers.”
State Senator LeRoy Comrie responded to the governor’s comments on Monday afternoon at the World’s Fair Marina in East Elmhurst.
“I appreciate what the Governor has said today,” said Comrie. “But I’m very disappointed in the Port Authority in their outreach and their respect of the community that has been disrespected and, frankly, abused for the last 30 years.”
Comrie said the Port Authority has not addressed recurring issues in East Elmhurst brought up by members of the community and the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association, including property damage and a high volume of noise and vibrations due to the reconstruction of LaGuardia Airport.
State Senator Jessica Ramos said the $2 billion the AirTrian is not expected to cost could be used in more efficient and productive ways.
“We can find a better use for $2 billion of taxpayer dollars,” she said, citing the timing of a pandemic and the after effects of Hurricane Ida. “East Elmhurst cannot eat the AirTrain. “We need to be able to build resiliency and the infrastructure to avoid the sewage backups and the drainage issues that have for decades plagued this neighborhood. That’s a smart use of the money.”
State Senator Michael Gianaris said when the plan was first conceived, federal funds were not part of the calculation. With federal funding now available for transportation projects, he said other options could be explored, such as extending the bus or subway service to the airport.
“I’m glad that Governor Hochul and her administration are going to take a fresh look at this problem,” said Gianaris. “The statement today was encouraging, but not far enough. It’s good that we’re going to look at other options, now let’s find a better option.”