BY BENJAMIN FANG
For three consecutive days during the final full week of September, officials with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) heard dozens of people testify on the proposed AirTrain from Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport.
The FAA hosted three public hearings and two public workshops one month after it released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the $2 billion project.
The report, which examined 47 possible alternatives, found that the AirTrain between Willets Point and the airport was the only option that addressed “unpredictable and increasing travel times” to and from LaGuardia, traffic congestion on roadways and inadequate employee parking.
The 45-day public comment period ended on October 5. On September 21, Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton said in a virtual event with the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) that the FAA agreed with their assessment that the proposed route is the best option.
“The FAA conducted its own thorough and independent investigation to come to that conclusion,” he said.
Despite fiscal challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including a projected $3 billion revenue shortfall over a 24-month period that has caused the Port Authority to reexamine its capital plan, Cotton assured that the AirTrain project remains on track.
“We are committed to finishing,” he said. “We are not going to leave these two airport projects unfinished, and that includes the two AirTrain projects.”
Cotton made the case for the benefits of a rail link to LaGuardia, including providing reliable mass transit access to the airport, curbing air pollution and lessening congestion on local roadways.
He noted that bus lines that currently take travelers to the airport are used by “well under 10 percent” of the public.
“It is that kind of experience that will get people out of their cars,” he said, referring to the AirTrain. “You can rely on it.”
He also touted the 3,000 union construction jobs it would create, and hundreds of millions of dollars for local and MWBE businesses. He noted that as part of the project, the Port Authority will improve the Flushing Bay promenade and leave it “in far better shape.”
“At a time when the economy is in a ditch,” Cotton added, “this project can contribute substantially to a more vigorous recovery.”