As a collection of public officials show support for a new
rail link to benefit New York Citys airports, Queens residents and community groups
fearful of the projects impact are waging a determined effort to stop
If approved the Jamaica branch will be built above the Van
Wyck Expressway (artists rendition).
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the Port Authoritys plans
to use Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) funds to construct an airport access system for
Kennedy Airport. In light of this decision, the Coalition of Concerned Queens Civic
Associations has announced plans to mobilize civic groups to pressure elected officials,
chiefly Governor George Pataki, to stop construction of the line. The group is also
considering legal action.
"The matter of FAA approval in regard to off airport construction of this facility
raises a host of questions. I dont think they are qualified to make such a
decision," said CCQCA co-chair Seymour Schwartz.
The FAA approval to use PFC funds, which come from a $3 surcharge on airline tickets at
JFK, gives the Port Authority the go ahead to begin construction of the $1.5 billion
Jamaica to JFK to Howard Beach light rail line. PFC guidelines require the funds be
exclusively used for projects that benefit airport passengers and employees, and bars
funds for off airport purposes.
While the millions of travellers that arrive and depart
from Kennedy airport each year have long complained that mass transit to the airport was
inadequate, many residents oppose the current rail-link plan.
Although the plan falls short of the desired one-seat-ride to JFK, a contingent of
public officials have come out in favor of the Van Wyck plan. New York Governor George
Pataki and Queens Borough President have both called the Jamaica to JFK project, "a
good first step."
"We must thoroughly review the record of decision from the FAA approval to
determine just how close to our goal of creating a 21st century transportation network
this announcement takes us," Pataki said. "However, we are clearly closer today
than ever before to creating a seamless transportation network for New Yorkers and
millions of business travelers and tourists who visit our state each year."
"The next step in the process is to construct a one-seat ride from Manhattan to
LaGuardia airport. We will move forward with an implementation study for that project this
year," Shulman said.
During her Feb. 18 State of the Borough report, Shulman announced that she expects the
state to provide funding to study the best way to achieve a one-seat ride between
Manhattan and Kennedy Airport. The study will include a review of the potential
revitalization of the LIRR Rockaway line which, Shulman explained, "would have the
added benefit of assisting our economic development plans for the Rockaway
Groundbreaking on the current PA plan is expected within weeks. The study could lead to
using parts of the Rockaway Beach plan, the Van Wyck plan, or a combination of the two.
Patty Clark, project manager for the Port Authority, and George Haikalis,
transportation consultant for the Committee of Better Transit (CBT), have traversed Queens
in a series of public meetings with community boards and concerned citizens groups,
arguing for and against the rail link plan. The Committee for Better Transit advocates
using the Rockaway Beach line, instead of building the JFK access line above the median of
the Van Wyck Expressway.
The Port Authoritys access plan for Kennedy Airport
(above) includes stops at the airport terminals, with branches to Howard Beach and
During a Feb. 17 meeting of the South Ozone Park Civic Association West, Clark said
that that the PA had examined using the Rockaway Beach line, but found it unsuitable. She
added that the project was needed because the rail line will positively impact the
citys economy, and because ground transport to the airport is dicey.
"Currently there is congestion at the airport, congestion on the Van Wyck,
congestion in the terminals," Clark said. "A trip that should take 60 minutes
now takes 120 minutes because things are so unreliable."
In response, Haikalis said that while he supports improved airport access, the Port
Authority plan is inadequate. Haikalis predicted that the Authority "would not get a
dime to advance the project past the airport without approval of the Unified Land Use
Under this process, known as ULURP, the city must hold public hearings before community
boards, the Queens Borough Board and the City Planning commission before the project is
approved. Because city owned off-airport land is involved, the PA plan must go through the
"If the city council says no through the ULURP process, then the
Jamaica link wont be built; only the airport portion and the line to Howard Beach
[will be built]," Haikalis said. "Thats what we, of course, would like to
Studies show that 75 percent of all JFK passengers utilize the Van Wyck Expressway, and
that traffic demand exceeds the roadways capacity in both directions during morning
and evening peak hours. In addition, the Van Wyck Expressway service roads currently
operate at 84 percent capacity during morning and evening peak hours. The result is
frequent traffic backups, of up to 4.5 miles.
A study for the NYS Department of Transportation forecasts that traffic will grow
between five to eight percent, to an average of 6,280 cars per hour, along the Van Wyck
corridor by 2002.
The Port Authoritys final environmental Impact Statement on the JFK access system
indicates that alternative routes to the airport such as Woodhaven Blvd., Metropolitan
Ave., Union Turnpike, Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue are also at or near maximum
The light rail plan is intended to improve airport access by running trains to
connections with the Long Island Rail Road and the E, J and Z subway lines at Jamaica. The
10-stop system, which will also make two stops along the Howard Beach segment, will cycle
every 24 minutes on the Jamaica, JFK and Howard Beach lines, and every eight minutes
within the airport terminals. The system is projected to carry 7,045 passengers a day,
servicing 11 percent of JFK-bound passengers.
Haikalis of the CBT called the projected passenger numbers, "an
embarrassment," and "numbers that do not justify the capital outlay."
Phase one of the project will level raised shoulders along the Van Wyck Expressway,
making the shoulders usable as traffic lanes throughout the project. Phase two will close
a center lane of the expressway in each direction, through the use of portable barriers.
This will allow supports to be built in the center of the roadway, at 120 foot intervals.
These two construction phases will take an estimated two and a half to three years. The
PA expects the Jamaica portion of the plan to be in operation by 2003.
In meeting after meeting, concerned area residents have complained about their lack of
input in the rail links planning stages and the lack of local benefit from the
proposal. They also express concerns about increased traffic congestion and noise that the
project will create, as well as reduction of emergency access to area hospitals and
reduced property values during the projected five-year construction process.
The Port Authority admits that closing the center lanes of the Van Wyck Expressway will
cause increased traffic delays and noise, and that it will hamper emergency access to
local hospitals. But the PA has tried to allay community concerns by promising traffic
monitoring systems, ground vibration testing and area beautification programs. It has not
eased opponents concerns.
"All of the proponents of the project admit to the deficiencies," said
Schwartz of the civic coalition against the group. "The biggest harm is the impact it
will have on the communities on its path.
"The civics are not against an airport access solution," he added.
"Other ways are possible. We are against the Port Authoritys plan."