LaGuardia AirTrain Foes Cheer as Port Authority Staffers Revolt

An open letter against Gov. Cuomo's boondoggle pet project closely follows his resignation.

A rendering of the proposed LGA AirTrain.  Image: Governor's Office
A rendering of the proposed LGA AirTrain. Image: Governor's Office

Viva la revolucion!

Environmentalists, transit advocates, elected officials and other opponents of the LaGuardia AirTrain are cheering the dissident Port Authority of New York and New Jersey staffers who issued an open letter calling for an end to the boondoggle project and an internal investigation of any “undue influence” that departing Gov. Cuomo had on its federal approval.

Dozens of Port Authority staffers are said to have signed the Aug. 10 missive, which was addressed to Port Authority Executive Director (and Cuomo loyalist) Rick Cotton and copied to all Port Authority commissioners. The letter landed literally hours after Cuomo announced his resignation on Tuesday. (Internal sources dispute the number, claiming that the number of signers is in the single digits.)

“For too long, Gov. Cuomo and his staff have repeatedly pushed the agency to make non-transparent, politically motivated decisions, including decisions that squander the trust and money of our bondholders, customers, and the general public,” the staffers wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Streetsblog and first reported by the Daily News. They called on Cotton to “halt” the AirTrain and other Cuomo pet projects and to investigate whether Cuomo’s office manipulated the project’s environmental review to fix the results for the governor’s preferred alternative.

The staffers’ identities remain unknown, reportedly because they fear retribution from the famously vindictive Cuomo, who has another two weeks in office.

“It’s telling that even those within the ranks of Port Authority are alleging undue influence over the project and calling it a waste of money. That they had to wait until six years after it was initially proposed shows a culture of disingenuousness and fear of retaliation within the agency. It was brave of those staff to come forward,” said the senior attorney of the environmental group Riverkeeper, Mike Dulong. “We join the staff’s request for the Port Authority Inspector General to investigate any wrongdoing. We look forward to working with incoming Gov. Hochul to get to the bottom of this and ensure smart design of transit infrastructure for the benefit of our communities and our environment.”

Transit maven Ben Kabak, who blogs at Second Ave. Sagas, appealed to governor-to-be Kathy Hochul to “cancel the AirTrain. Do it,” while State Sen. Jessica Ramos, who represents East Elmhurst near the AirTrain’s proposed route, thanked the “brave staffers at the Port Authority” for coming forward with “the truth” about the “vanity project.”

“The AirTrain should be stopped immediately, and we should take a hard look at how these projects were pushed during Cuomo’s toxic tenure” Ramos told Streetsblog.

Frank Taylor, the president of the Ditmars Homeowners Association, which objects to the plan because of the damage it portends for local homes, told Streetsblog, “This is what we’ve been saying all along: this project will cost $4 billion, was promoted by a disgraced governor, and that no one in New York City wants or needs.”

The AirTrain got its final stamp of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration on July 20. Construction on the 1.5-mile automated people mover is still slated to begin this summer.

The AirTrain was proposed back in 2015 with a price tag of $500 million, but the project since has ballooned to more than $2 billion. The tracks will run for a mile and a half between the airport and Long Island Rail Road station at Willets Point, along the Grand Central Parkway and the Flushing Bay promenade — an environmentally sensitive area.

Critics long have complained that its “backwards” route wouldn’t save people time, because it sends travelers further east from LaGuardia — and to a less-useful LIRR line — before doubling back toward the airport (or, during the reverse trip, Manhattan). Transit analysts think that it’s a mistake to spend so much money on something that adds so little to the city’s overall transportation network.

The Port at least promised to take the letter seriously.

“The policy of the Port Authority is that every concern reported by an employee is taken and treated seriously. This will be no exception,” a spokeswoman said. 

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