Are Port Authority’s Airport Expansionists Flying Blind?


The top brass over at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are patting themselves on the back about the PA’s plan to take over Stewart Airport near Newburgh, NY. "The region clearly needs additional capacity for air travel," Anthony
Coscia, the agency’s chairman, was quoted as saying in the New York Times. "It’s undeniable. This is intended to remedy exactly that
problem." If the deal goes through, Stewart, 60 miles north of New York City, will become the region’s fourth major air hub.

This expansion of air travel capacity comes at a time when people in other industrialized nations, most notably the United Kingdom, are increasingly aware that there is no such thing as free flight. Prince Charles of England recently announced he had cancelled his annual ski vacation after coming under fire from the nation’s Green Party and others for making too many unnecessary airplane trips. British Prime Minister Tony Blair caused a stir in scientific circles when he said he was reluctant to cut back on recreational travel and trusted in technology to cut airplane emissions. (Blair later received support for his stance from anti-poverty activist Jeffrey Sachs, who said global warming wouldn’t be stopped by a decrease in air travel.) Celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and David Beckham have been targeted by critics of wasteful flying.

Plane Stupid, an anti-flying activist group in the UK, contends that not only is air travel a major contributor to global warming, it is also, through airport expansion, a significant culprit in noise pollution and the destruction of open spaces. The roar of cargo and passenger traffic tops the concerns of Ulsterites Fight Overflight Noise, a local group opposing expansion at Stewart. But their voices have been drowned out by elected officials, including governors Eliot Spitzer and Jon Corzine, who say that increasing the region’s airport capacity is a simple necessity.

Photo: John Wardell (Nethino) on Flickr

  • How can a nation reduce its CO2 emissions while they are expanding their air travel infrastructure?
    Gov. Spitzer is painfully wrong on this issue. Airport exansion should simply be illegal.

  • Hannah

    To bring this back to the streets focus, how is the PA going to get people to Stewart?

  • P

    I was disappointed that the NY Times article didn’t mention the grounds on which Pataki based his opposition. I’m not one who typically takes my political cues from Pataki but this could have put the issues of airport expansion into context.

  • David Chesler

    If the deal goes through, Stewart … will become the region’s fourth major air hub.

    Isn’t Teterboro already a major hub as far as air traffic goes? (It’s mostly general aviation — business jets — but it gets taken into account.)

    How can a nation reduce its CO2 emissions while they are expanding their air travel infrastructure?

    What are the alternatives, and how do they compare? (You know the old joke “Why do ducks fly south for the winter?” “Because it’s too far to walk.”) While some folks would stay home and make a phone call instead, at least some of the people who don’t fly would drive, just one or two people per car.

  • srock

    What are the alternatives? Rail. A national investment in a high speed train system like the TGV in France could revolutionize the way people in the United States move from place to place. A train that travels at 200 mph, which leaves and arrives in center cities, could make total travel time (including travel to and from the airport and waiting time at the airport) to places as far away as Chicago roughly comparable to a plane trip.

  • James Ritchie

    New airports outside of the urban core also tend to promote car oriented sprawl development.

  • Aaron W

    This will most likely increase car traffic on the state designated bike routes on both sides of the river. Even now 9D is not great and 9 is worse. Also, Stewart is not that easy to get to from the Thruway or 84–there will be lots of cars clogging up the roads around the airport.

  • AD

    Sarah, you are absolutely right that the UK is increasingly aware that air traffic is the root cause of much global warming gas emission. A Tory MP wants the UK to ban all domestic flights.

    The U.S. should consider something similar by banning or at least heavily taxing, flights in the northeast, which would precipitate a huge amount of investment in rail travel here. Not just on the Northeast Corridor but to places like Buffalo and Scranton.

  • A couple of decades ago, both Los Angeles and San Francisco were planning to expand their airports. Environmentalists pointed out that the combined cost of the two airport expansions would have been enough to pay for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco – and that the number of people who would have been diverted from flying by high-speed rail would have been greater than the increased airport capacity.

  • tps12

    Interesting list of stars…Travolta and Cruise belong to the same faith, of course, and aren’t the Beckhams being wooed as well? What’s the connection between Scientology and jet travel?

  • ShiShi

    Wait, Philly is 90 miles away and has the chinatown bus.

  • Mark

    A lot of flights from New York Metro’s airports are to destinations within the Northeast Corridor. There is intense travel between Boston, Philly, Washington, (and lots of vehicular congestion.) I go to Boston a lot, and travel via Chinatown bus at off-peak times to avoid long delays. My worst trip took 8 hours due to delays caused by several horrendous accidents. Amtrak is unbelievably expensive because the Northeast line subsidies the rest of the system. Recently I took the TGV from Marseille to Paris. The train cruised smoothly at about 200 mph, and didn’t stop once until arriving in Paris. The trip was over 500 miles and cost about 80 euros. The stations at both ends were located in downtown. It was a fun and relaxing experience, in sharp contrast to Northeast corridor travel. Why don’t the northeast states put some great heavily subsidized system that goes 200 mph, that is as inexpensive as the Chinatown bus, and that leaves every 15 minutes 24 hours a day is a mystery that I’ll never understand. With a TGV system it would take just over 1 hour to get to Boston! It would be so good for the economy, our quality of life, and the environment. Right now I’m subsidizing the airlines and private car owners with my tax dollars and all I’m getting is a lot of noisy flights over my apartment. I also heard that 1 person flying London to Miami round trip generates 1.8 tons of carbon, and that TGV type trains were marketing themselves as an environmental alternative. I’m also sick of all the helicopters flying over Brooklyn to drop people off at JFK! Don’t build the new airport. Build the Northeast TGV. Maybe get Fung Wah to run it.

  • Mark,

    Do you hate people? The wheels are literally falling off the Fung Wah buses.

    Other than having Fung Wah manage the Fast Freedom line (TGV is so, you know, French), I’m totally with you.

    We need a massive, Robert Moses-scale, 100-foot wide taking between DC and Boston, with stops in Phildelphia, Manhattan, &c. Pick the route. Stay off the coast.

    Call it the Path to Freedom!

  • David Chesler

    Northeast Corridor is the only place rail transit makes sense in the US, but like you said they’re killing it by trying to pay for all of Amtrak with its fares. (Maybe LA/SF with high-speed rail.)

    Even with conventional speeds, or maybe Acela, center-to-center the train is as fast as get to the airport, do the security thing, wait, fly, and get in from the airport, Boston to New York and maybe New York to Washington. Boston to Washington no — I don’t think making the roundtrip in a day works other than by plane now.

    But with all the externalities and subsidies, it is quicker and about break-even in price for someone who owns a car to drive SOV from suburban Boston to the Bronx, and cheaper if there is even one passenger for one direction.

    Are the capital improvement costs at Stewart at the same order of magnitude as rail, like Charles said for LA/SF?

    James, I believe “If you build it they will come” for highways (and commuter rail) — has it played out that way for suburban airports? Depending on how dense are the surroundings for the airport, airport expansions face a lot of NIMBY resistance. (“Why did they build the palace so close to the airport?” – American tourist)

  • On one of the New Republic blogs, President Bush’s use of Air Force One to get from DC to Delaware.

    Ultimately, though, it’s probably justified on security grounds and maybe more efficient than dragging the whole security and press coterie by bus or train. Maybe.

    Ironically, the same TNR blog had this no-nothingscreed againt Delaware tolls just a little while back.

    In the collection of private flying offenders, though, Laure David (wife of Larry David) takes the cake. She drives a Prius and screams at Hummer drivers but takes private jets.

  • anon

    A few real-world considerations on this them from the NY area point of view:

    * France does not have a federal system – the national gov’t can do big projects and pretty much whatever else it wants.

    * Our federal system works against doing grand regional projects because most levels of gov’t can sit around pointing at other levels and they frequently hate cooperating with each other. If the feds really geared up to do something the opportunities for nit-picking the hell out of it and pandering to the many NIMBY opponents may be hard for the other gov’ts to resist. The current feds simply aren’t going near anything like blue-state high speed rail anyway.

    * Really high speed rail in NE Corridor would cost much more than the small Stewart upgrades the PA is considering (that’s not to say it wouldn’t have major benefits, like capturing significant air market in the corridor, as everyone above has pointed out).

    * It is not the Port Authority’s job to develop NE Corridor rail, but it is its job to deal with regional airport capacity constraints and they currently have no reason to believe someone else is going to bail them out by diverting lots of trips to rail.

    * Acela service NYC-Boston is still not competitive with flying because of antiquated rail infrastructure except for a stretch from the Boston suburbs to Providence.

    * Really high speed NE Corridor rail would strengthen the entire NE metropolitan corridor but will require Amtrak reform, probably a Democratic administration, more overall focus on infrastructure by the U.S., a lot of money and a grand deal with the states and various transit agencies that share segments of track. Some of the current right-of-way would probably need to be straightened out which would mean some significant property takings.

  • epc

    Would it really expand air travel or spread around the people who are already travelling on NYC area roads?

    Stewart had a burst of traffic in the early 1990s which was trimmed down by airline cutbacks and the collapse of IBM’s Mid Hudson operations. American, United, Delta and US Air were based there, you could fly to their hubs.

    5 million people live within the counties immediately surrounding Stewart. Their current options to fly are to drive to LGA, JFK, or EWR except for a few domestic locations served out of White Plains.

  • AD

    Would expanding an airport expand air travel? How could it do anything but?

    Would it encourage sprawl? Probably. Think of all the cheap lodgings that tend to spring up around airports for an example.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Hannah makes a very good point about access to Stewart Airport. Fortunately, it’s only a few miles from the Port Jervis line (former Erie mainline), which is an hour and a half from Hoboken. This has been studied fairly extensively:

    The train takes 40 minutes to go the 25 miles or so (and four stops) from Salisbury Mills to Suffern, which could probably be improved with better tracks and/or electrification, if the PA cared at all.

    In the meantime, the Salisbury Mills station is eight miles by bus from the airport:,-95.677068&sspn=48.240201,81.5625&ie=UTF8&z=12&ll=41.478232,-74.072914&spn=0.17954,0.318604&om=1

    Of course, that does nothing to help people who want to get to the airport from, say, Poughkeepsie or White Plains.

    Of course, I agree with the many comments that investment in the Northeast Corridor would be better than investment in Stewart. I also disagree with Mark (#12) that the NEC subsidizes the long-distance routes. That’s a very simplistic view of the Amtrak system.

  • AD

    Yes, but the Port Jervis line consists of a single track, with no ability to provide trains traveling against the peak direction. It has no weekend service. Travelers to Manhattan have to change trains at Seacaucus. This is considerably less attractive than the other airports. (Well, definitely two of them.)

  • crzwdjk

    AD: While the Port Jervis line is but a single track, it has reverse-peak and off-peak service, including a few trains on the weekends. Service is crappy but it’s there. You might have gotten it confused with the Pascack Valley Line. And not everyone lives in Manhattan. Northern New Jersey would benefit from this airport expansion, and would get a more direct rail service too, from anywhere on the Main/Bergen County NJT commuter lines.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Crzwdjk is right, AD. I think the Port Jervis line is single-track north of Suffern, but it’s double-track from Suffern to Ridgewood, where it splits into two double-track lines, the Main Line and the Bergen County Line, which rejoin just north of Secaucus. There’s a lot of unused capacity there.

    The line currently has hourly service during rush hours, and fairly frequent service at off-hours. Here’s a PDF of the schedule:

    If Bob Moses could fund the BQE as a “tunnel approach road,” then the right leader at the Port Authority could fund re-double-tracking of the Port Jervis line as an airport improvement.

  • crzwdjk

    The Port Authority could not fund the JFK and Newark Airtrain as “airport improvement”. Hence the $5 fare on both of them, to defray the cost of constructing the off-airport portions.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Must not have had a good leader.

  • James Ritchie

    That’s right. It’s not the PA’s job to worry about regional rail.

    But why is that? Why is the only regional transportation agency worried about accommodating increases in air traffic, instead of working out what mix of air traffic, regional rail and other modes make the most sense from a economic and sustainability perspective. Every new highway built is justified by the need to accomodate trends in auto use. But what is the goal? What do we want the region to be like?

    It is not the Port Authority’s job to develop NE Corridor rail, but it is its job to deal with regional airport capacity constraints and they currently have no reason to believe someone else is going to bail them out by diverting lots of trips to rail.

  • David Chesler

    How could it do anything but? (cause more urban sprawl)

    Because most people fly so infrequently that proximity to the airport is not a consideration at all where they move. Even those that fly regularly might care that there is an airport, but having to take a cab an extra 30 minutes twice a year doesn’t trump saving $5000 on the price of the house. (This is not the situation where the daily commute to work is involved.)

    Most people don’t like being near airports due to the noise. (My former office-mate is an exception. He was very happy to live under flight paths — but he is an aero engineer specializing in commercial air.)

    MHT (Manchester, now Manchester-Boston, “International” (there is a flight from Canada once a week or something) Airport) has expanded lately, but that’s been a response to the urban sprawl into southern New Hampshire, not a cause of it. Enough airports have been expanded, and enough areas have sprawled, that correlations if they exist should be easy enough to find, rather than relying on gedanken experiments.

  • James Ritchie

    Airports are big employers. It takes lots of people to service planes, people and freight. Businesses like to locate close to major airports. People like to live close to work. Airports mean more new housing. There is very little transit/walk centered new housing being built in America. Unless a new land use model is put in place, expect the new housing and business development that grows around Stewart over the next 25 years to be low to medium density residential, big box retail, office park, big parking lots, big collector streets,heavy car use.

  • CB

    I wonder how much fuels is spend by a plane versus a train versus the necessary amountof cars to bring the passengers to their destination ???

    There must be some sort of breakeven point , isn’t there?

  • I think the Port Jervis connection to Stewart is a non-starter because ridership will be so minimal. That airport will generally absorb passengers north of the city who would otherwise face tough travel to Newark or NYC. Getting to/from Manhattan isn’t really the point. Plus the relatively well-served Beacon MNRR station is just a few miles from the airport – easy to run regular shuttles from Stewart to meet those trains if demand warrants.

  • karen

    Re: David Chesler “Most people don’t like being near airports due to the noise.”

    I’m wondering where you got your info about people’s preferences for living or not living near airports. How do you know it’s simply the noise that bothers people and not other issues, ie traffic, pollution etc? Maybe you could supply some info as to what qualifies you to make such a statement.

    Since you revealed David that you get your info directly from Sen Dan Inoye and former members (Jonathan Adler) of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank (which can be researched at link below) I find myself seriously doubting the truthfulness of anything you might say.

    (if anyone is interested in checking out the fact that David does get his information from the sources mentioned above)

  • Ritchie


    Blow-up Amtrak and refund each state’s contribution. NE states take the money and create a regional passenger rail system from DC to Boston. I am a big believer in a strong federal government, but congressional politics destroyed rational national passenger rail a long time ago. The money is going down the toilet and the ticket prices are going through the roof.

  • David Chesler

    I’m wondering where you got your info about people’s preferences for living or not living near airports. How do you know it’s simply the noise that bothers people and not other issues, ie traffic, pollution etc?

    I don’t know and I don’t care, because it doesn’t matter. Lots of people don’t like living near airports (the point I raised in #14 above) and a reason is that they don’t like the noise (support I offered in #26.) It doesn’t matter if noise is the actual most important reason, or one of several reasons, or just a rationalization.

    I get this idea from watching the protestors complain about airport expansions, and the appeasements that airport authorities have granted them.

    (I don’t get this directly, although I have seen the noise-barrier walls. Both the Boston Globe [left of the NY Times] and the Boston Herald [left of the Manchester Union-Leader 🙂 ] have reported on the noise abatements, as has MassPort itself.)

    Regardless, if you are correct that noise is only one among several factors that make it unpleasant to live near an airport for most people, even if ground traffic and pollution are stronger reasons, we are in agreement that most people don’t like living near airports, and we would not expect airports to yield more suburban sprawl development in their neighborhoods. (Hotels are not sprawl.)

    Since you revealed David that you get your info directly from Sen Dan Inoye and former members (Jonathan Adler) of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank (which can be researched at link below) I find myself seriously doubting the truthfulness of anything you might say.

    Has following Google links to those sites corrupted my mind so badly that you think ad hominem is a refutation of things I’ve said? I’ve demonstrated as false things you’ve written (such as “you never offer any resources for your statements” — have you done the same where you’ve disagreed with me?

    Interestingly enough, you don’t believe anything I write because I’ll cite sources from the Right, but in that Weatherpeople thread I was taking the position that at Comment 2 Adam ascribed to the “ACLU/free-speech types”, which is usually thought of as Left.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    So the Port Authority has no incentive to invest in regional rail?

  • David Chesler

    I left italics on, sorry.

  • Hey, let’s take the person-to-person fighting offline, folks. And try to stay away from the ad hominem, or we’ll delete. Thanks.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Jon, apparently there is a bus going from Stewart to the Beacon station, with a stop at the Newburgh bus station:

    At this point it’s only weekdays, which is one of those bus-service head-slappers. But it takes half an hour to get to the Metro-North station, according to the schedule.

    Just today I connected from a MNR train to a bus at Tarrytown to go across the river to the Palisades Center mall in West Nyack. Even though everything went smoothly, it still felt just a tad unreliable, and I don’t think I’d want to do it on a regular basis. I think it would have felt the same if I’d been coming from Poughkeepsie or Dobbs Ferry.

    A bit more about Hudson Valley airport access: when I was a kid, there was a “Hudson Valley Airporter” that went to both La Guardia and JFK. It went down the Thruway and picked people up in selected parking lots at each exit, completely separate from the existing Adirondack Trailways system. I remember taking it on a trip to Europe in 1984. They may have had another one that went to Newark. I can’t remember how many there were a day.

    A few years ago I was living out of state and figured I’d go directly from the airport to visit my mom. The airporter was gone! Just pointing out that it wasn’t always tough travel getting to JFK from Kingston.

  • jennacatlin4

    Expansionism at the airport should be done while keeping other things sound in mind, “This expansion of air travel capacity comes at a time when people in
    other industrialized nations, most notably the United Kingdom, are
    increasingly aware that there is no such thing as free flight” yes that is so true, no matter how much expansion they are going to make but the thing is whether there is going to be an improvement in rest of the things or not. Meet and Greet Heathrow


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