News > News > Public Access > Advocates sue to halt LaGuardia AirTrain, alleging the politically favored project was selected without required review of transit alternatives

Advocates sue to halt LaGuardia AirTrain, alleging the politically favored project was selected without required review of transit alternatives

As proposed, the $2 billion Port Authority project would harm a historically Black community and eliminate waterfront parkland – without delivering a one-fare public transit ride from Manhattan to LaGuardia Airport

Represented by the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, advocates filed a petition in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals Monday, September 20, alleging that the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to greenlight the LaGuardia AirTrain was based on an unlawfully biased decision-making process that eliminated alternatives from review that likely could have limited the impact on local community members, avoided construction on waterfront parkland and provided a one-fare ride from Manhattan to the airport. The petitioner groups include Riverkeeper, Guardians of Flushing Bay, and Ditmars Boulevard Block Association.

On July 20, 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s application to construct a $2.05 billion elevated AirTrain to carry passengers between the Mets-Willets Point subway station at Citi Field and the LaGuardia Airport. The AirTrain would result in the taking of Flushing Bay waterfront parkland along a 2,100-foot stretch of Malcolm X Promenade along Flushing Bay at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the historically Black community of East Elmhurst, Queens.

The proposed light rail line has been lambasted by transit experts for its “two-seat ride” requiring a transfer and separate fare, its circuitous route that would carry passengers first east of the airport to Citi Field and then back west, and the likelihood that its main function would be to facilitate car traffic to new parking lots near the Mets-Willets Point subway station. A recent independent analysis estimated the AirTrain would be the world’s most costly transit project per daily rider.

The suit alleges that the FAA violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by eliminating from review feasible transit alternatives, including extending the N/W subway line for a “one seat ride” directly from midtown Manhattan, ferry service, optimized bus service, or some combination thereof. The FAA itself recognized these flaws, as revealed by documents uncovered by a Riverkeeper Freedom of Information request earlier this year. Port Authority employees recently called for an Inspector General investigation, alleging former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo unduly influenced the decision to ensure that a project he publicly favored since 2015 was selected.

In addition, the lawsuit challenges the FAA’s approval of parkland use under the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, which prohibits condemnation of parkland unless no feasible and prudent alternative exists. Even if the AirTrain were properly approved, those who use and enjoy the Malcolm X Promenade will be harmed, and the currently proposed mitigation fund ($23 million and $7.5 million for maintenance) has shortchanged the community. The fund is roughly two-fifths of the investment being made for development projects near other waterfront parks in Brooklyn and Queens, on a per-acre basis.

“People have a right to enjoy the waterfront. The laws that were violated are there to ensure that communities and the environment are not harmed by decisions without a careful consideration of alternatives, and, if none are found, mitigation of unavoidable negative impacts. The failure to adhere to the process is an injustice that shifts the burdens of this major infrastructure project onto East Elmhurst while dismissing alternatives that might better serve New York City and impose less harm locally,” said Mike Dulong, senior attorney for Riverkeeper. “Riverkeeper has always stood against the violation of our environmental laws, and we’re proud to stand with Ditmars Boulevard Block Association and Guardians of Flushing Bay in doing so today.”

“This is an uncomplicated, common sense complaint: Before an oversight agency approves a large-scale infrastructure project – especially one that costs over $2 billion, cuts an environmental justice community off from their waterfront park and has been lambasted as circuitous and unnecessary by independent transit experts – they must adequately consider all alternatives,” said Margaret Flanagan, board member of Guardians of Flushing Bay and Jackson Heights resident. “As Port Authority and FAA staff have questioned, Guardians of Flushing Bay and our coalition assert – the environmental review process for the LGA AirTrain did not consider all alternatives evenly. We demand a just and fair review of a project that impacts all New Yorkers.”

“This area of East Elmhurst has been underserved and environmental racism has almost never been addressed. It is time to address these atrocities. For decades this area has been held hostage by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and LaGuardia Airport. Many studies have been done to show the air quality is poor, and our community has high levels of asthma, COPD, and cancer. Needless to say the noise and the vibrations from construction for the last five years are destroying our houses and leading to other sicknesses of the residents. At this time we are proud to have partners that will stand with us to fight these injustices,” said Frank Taylor, President of the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association.

“The FAA pushed through an inadequate environmental review in spite of its NEPA duties, authorizing the Port Authority to build infrastructure on the backs of marginalized communities without even considering other alternatives,” said Erin Anderson, Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic Legal Intern.

Media contact: Leah Rae, [email protected], (914) 715-6821

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