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FAA approves LaGuardia AirTrain despite objections from Riverkeeper, community groups

Questions raised in FAA docs pause LaGuardia AirTrain project

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Decision fails to address numerous concerns over railway construction above Malcolm X Promenade on Flushing Bay.

[Update: July 21, 2021]

On Tuesday, July 20, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a decision approving a new AirTrain from Mets-Citi Field Subway Station to LaGuardia Airport in Queens.

“Riverkeeper is reviewing the Record of Decision and weighing our options. We’re disappointed with FAA’s decision, which will result in the construction of a railway above the Malcolm X Promenade waterfront parkland in the environmental justice community of East Elmhurst, Queens. The Record of Decision does not remedy the FAA’s premature exclusion of alternative transit options, such as a ‘one-seat subway ride’ from Midtown Manhattan or ferry service,” Riverkeeper Senior Attorney Mike Dulong said. “This project effectively takes the promenade away from the public, to which it belongs, and takes it away from the community of East Elmhurst.”

Documents obtained by Riverkeeper showed that the FAA had initially critiqued Port Authority when it embellished the purported benefit of the AirTrain; cherry-picked its transit project selection criteria; unevenly applied those selection criteria among the alternatives; and excluded viable and desired ferry service from meaningful consideration.

[Earlier: June 18, 2021]

LaGuardia AirportDocuments obtained by Riverkeeper through a Freedom of Information lawsuit have caused the Federal Aviation Administration to postpone its decision on the proposed LaGuardia Airport AirTrain. The documents reveal communications between the FAA and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which proposes to develop the $2.05 billion rail project through waterfront parkland in East Elmhurst, Queens, an environmental justice community. In the communications, FAA raises concerns about the impartiality of the transit alternatives review, a key piece of the approval process.

After Riverkeeper published the documents in April 2021, Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sent a letter to the FAA calling on the agency to withhold approval for the project: 

“Due to the lack of transparency surrounding the FAA’s Final [Environmental Impact Statement] and the lack of the public’s trust in the execution of this project, I ask that the FAA refrain from approving this project, thereby preventing PANYNJ from beginning construction.”

Although the Port Authority was poised to start AirTrain construction in June, FAA is now “working to answer additional questions from members of the New York delegation and other community groups.” Riverkeeper will continue to demand that the FAA carefully vet the project to ensure it’s the best possible transit option for all New Yorkers and has minimal impacts on local community members.

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