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$ 2.1 billion AirTrain to La Guardia gets US green light

By 2025, travelers using La Guardia Airport may no longer have to contend with New York’s notorious traffic to get there.

A plan to build a $ 2.1 billion AirTrain to La Guardia lifted its biggest hurdle with Federal Aviation Administration approval on Tuesday.

Preliminary work to build the elevated rail link could begin before the end of the summer, according to the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, which operates the airport.

The move is a notable victory for Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who has championed the project as part of his plan to transform La Guardia from an object of constant derision to a ‘world-class’ travel hub. . The airport is in the midst of a complete overhaul, including the replacement of the main terminals and gates.

Federal approval came over objections from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who represents parts of Queens, and the environmental group Riverkeeper, both of whom raised questions about why the AirTrain was the only one plan to get people to and from the airport. survive the project review.

Critics have also targeted AirTrain’s indirect route. To get to Manhattan, which is west of La Guardia, travelers should first go the other way around – going east to connect to the subway or a commuter train at a station nearby. from CitiField, the baseball stadium where the Mets play.

Port authority officials have championed the route as the least disruptive to the neighborhoods surrounding the airport in North Queens. It would run along the north side of the Grand Central Parkway from Willets Point to two stations from the airport.

Mr. Cuomo and Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority, billed the AirTrain as a 30-minute ride from Midtown Manhattan to La Guardia. But that estimate is measured from the moment you board a subway train along Line 7 or an LIRR train at the Pennsylvania station, both of which serve Willets Point.

When Mr Cuomo first proposed the project six years ago, he estimated it would cost just $ 450 million, but the price has almost quintupled since then. The agency hopes to use fees collected from passengers at airports it manages to help pay for AirTrain, but the FAA has yet to approve the idea.

La Guardia Airport “deserves a reliable, efficient and affordable transit connector worthy of its destination,” Cuomo said in a prepared statement. “With the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval today of the La Guardia AirTrain, that’s exactly what New Yorkers will get.”

The approval goes against criticism from neighborhood activists and elected officials. In a letter of May 26, Ms Ocasio-Cortez asked the FAA to refrain from approving the project in light of information uncovered by Riverkeeper. She argued that the documents showed that all alternatives, including a metro link or ferries, had not been fully investigated.

“This project would be built in the heart of one of the communities hardest hit by COVID-19, with many community members opposing the development,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “It is essential that this project meets the highest ethical and efficiency standards – and it is clear that this has not been the case to date. “

In a response to Riverkeeper on Tuesday, FAA administrator Steve Dickson said alternatives that could have had more benefits had been ruled out because the main goal of the project was to improve access to the airport. “This is not a regional transport project,” he wrote.

Neither Riverkeeper nor Ms Ocasio-Cortez responded to requests for comment. Senator Jessica Ramos, a Democrat who represents neighborhoods close to La Guardia, called the move a “slap in the face” for residents who will be affected by the project.

The drop in air travel caused by the pandemic has damaged the finances of the Port Authority, which also operates Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International airports. The agency has advocated for a $ 3 billion federal bailout, but has so far received only a portion of the relief funds the government has given to all airports.

Mr. Cotton said without more federal help, the Port Authority will have to reconsider its plans to improve transportation infrastructure in the New York area, including new terminals at Kennedy International. But he said the two exceptions would be construction underway at La Guardia and Newark Liberty, where a terminal is being built and the existing AirTrain is expected to be replaced.

The port authority has issued a call for tenders for the design, construction and maintenance of the La Guardia AirTrain and plans to select a winning bidder by mid-2022. The project is expected to be completed in 2025.

Mr Cotton said the project would “help stimulate the region’s economic recovery” by creating 3,000 union construction jobs and more than $ 500 million in contract opportunities for women-owned and minority-owned businesses and companies based in Queens.

The Queens Chamber of Commerce applauded the move, saying the project would be a boon to the community and the entire region. “This investment in La Guardia Airport will catalyze economic activity that supports local businesses and local communities and comes at a time when many small businesses in Queens are struggling to survive after a difficult year,” said the room in a press release.

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