FAA gives initial green light to LaGuardia AirTrain

PUBLIC CAN COMMENT ON DRAFT EIS UNTIL OCTOBER 5

BY BENJAMIN FANG

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) last month for the proposed $2 billion LaGuardia AirTrain.

In the report, which examined 47 unique alternatives, the agency found that only the AirTrain between Willets Point and the airport achieved the purpose and needs of the proposal, and was also considered to be “reasonable to construct and operate.”

Proposed alternatives needed to address issues like increasing and unreliable travel times between LaGuardia Airport and key locations in New York City, inadequate employee parking and traffic congestion on roadways near the airport.

According to the study, only subway extensions, fixed guideways and the gondola service satisfied the “purpose and needs” requirement. However, the FAA did not believe they were reasonable to construct and operate, so they were eliminated from consideration.

“The FAA has identified the Proposed Action as its preferred alternative,” the agency wrote, referring to the AirTrain.

The Draft EIS also studied the potential impact the project and construction would have on the community. The FAA determined that there would be no significant impacts to air quality, climate or water resources. The agency did conclude, however, that temporary noise during construction would impact 1,213 residential units in East Elmhurst and North Corona.

Impacts from vibration during construction would also affect 136 residential and hotel units. Additionally, 93 residential units overlooking the Grand Central Parkway would face partially obstructed views of the Flushing Bay.

If ultimately approved, construction for the LaGuardia AirTrain is expected to begin in August 2021, with a completion date in November 2025. The FAA estimated daily ridership to reach 13,000 by 2026, including 4,000 employees and 9,000 air passengers.

By 2031, daily ridership would reach 14,000 people. Annually, the agency estimates that the AirTrain will serve 4.8 million passengers by 2026 and 5.1 million passengers by 2031. The FAA’s projections were lower than the Port Authority’s projections.

After the Draft EIS was released, the FAA kicked off a 45-day public comment period that ends on October 5. Although the agency cannot host in-person workshops and hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will hold virtual workshops on September 22, 23 and 24.

In a joint statement, Port Authority chairman Kevin O’Toole and executive director Rick Cotton said they were pleased to see the environmental review process for the project move forward.

“We are one step closer to realizing the benefits of the project for the region,” they said. “AirTrain LGA will provide millions upon millions of air travelers with a reliable, 30-minute trip from midtown Manhattan to the airport.”

The Port Authority officials also touted that the AirTrain will get people out of cars, reduce traffic congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. They said the project will provide thousands of good-paying jobs and contribute to the local economy.

O’Toole and Cotton added that the project will not take any private property, whether residential or commercial. The proposed route will also require no construction within residential or commercial areas.

“It is by far the best alignment amongst the more than 40 alternatives evaluated in the federal review process to date,” they said.

To register for the FAA’s virtual workshops, CLICK HERE.

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