Two prominent Queens politicians have joined the fight to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul to ground disgraced predecessor Andrew Cuomo’s controversial $2.1 billion LaGuardia Airport AirTrain project, The Post has learned.
State Sen. Leroy Comrie, who chairs the committee that has oversight of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is opposing the project. The Port Authority runs the metro area airports.
Meanwhile, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards is calling for a delay in the project he has supported, citing more pressing needs to help the county’s residents recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
“The AirtTrain should be halted temporarily,” Richards told The Post on Wednesday.
“I would kick the can down the road. At the moment, the LaGuardia AirTrain should not be prioritized.”
Richards said the neighborhoods around the airport have been hard-hit by COVID-19 and flooding and he’s more interested in infrastructure improvements to local roads, reducing overcrowding in schools and improving local hospitals.
“We were the epicenter of the epicenter for COVID,” he said.
The LGA AirTrain was a top priority of former Gov. Cuomo, who pushed the project through despite opposition from some transit advocates and even officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the big-state agency which oversees the regional airports and would build and operate the LGA AirTrain.
Critics including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez question the logic of the route, which would require Manhattan-bound riders to first travel east — away from the island — before connecting to the subway at Willets Point and then heading back west. They said it’s faster to take a cab or bus to midtown and the cost doesn’t justify the number of riders who would use it.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said she’s reviewing the project.
Comrie on Wednesday said he agrees with critics that the project doesn’t make sense, and has expressed his opinion to Hochul.
He is co-hosting a press conference on Monday with state Sen. Jessica Ramos — who represents neighborhoods that border the airport — calling on Hochul to “halt the LGA AirTrain project until there has been a FULL investigation into any potential undue influence!”, according to a flyer promoting the event.
The flyer includes the hashtags #hochulhalt, #wrongwayairtrain and #airtrainboondoggle.
“I’m opposed to the project that was designed by the old governor’s office. I don’t believe it’s the best use of public funds,” Comrie said.
“The ability to provide reliable transportation at a high amount of usage is minimal.”
Comrie said connecting the AirTrain to the 7 subway line at Willet’s Point is misguided.
“The No. 7 train is one of the most congested train lines in the city. You’re bringing people with luggage onto crowded trains. It’s a disincentive,” he said.
Ramos said she wants any investigation to look into whether Cuomo abused his power to win LGA AirTrain approvals.
She also said other legislators will be coming out against the project.
“This multi-billion vanity project isn’t for the people of our communities,” Ramos said.
“COVID has already taken a devastating toll on our neighbors. The last thing we need is a multi-billion dollar vanity project that will further affect the health & well-being of our communities.”
She favors extending the N/W subway line to the airport.
Richards’ comments to shelve the project has raised eyebrows by Air Train supporters because he has previously expressed strong support for the project. He said it could be revisited in a few years.
The PA defended the project as an enormous environmental and economic plus for Queens and the city.
“The LaGuardia AirTrain will create a reliable and affordable rail link to LaGuardia Airport, while removing millions of cars from local streets and highways, and creating 3,000 good-paying union construction jobs along with $500 million in opportunities for Queens-based minority- and women-owned businesses,” the PA said in a statement.
“A robust package of community benefits includes $50 million to provide massive capital upgrades and long-term maintenance at the Malcolm X Promenade at Flushing Bay and other local parks, the planting of 5,000 new trees in the community, middle school STEM programs, and full-tuition college scholarships for local students.”
The Federal Aviation Administration approved the LGA Airtrain project, despite its own analysis that it won’t shave travel time and could take longer than a cab ride into Manhattan.
The PA noted that 80 percent of the more than 120 people who attended FAA hearings on the AirTran project endorsed it.
Queens Chamber of Commerce president Tom Grech said he was “shocked” by Richard’s backing away from the project.
Grech said airline passengers — not local taxpayers — will foot the bill for LGA Airtrain. He also said New York needs to modernize.
“We’re going to compete. It’s not as though the rest of the world is doing nothing,” he said.
He said now is the time to launch AirTrain to create thousands of union construction jobs and help crawl out of the pandemic.
The project moves ahead unless Hochul intervenes because it has been approved by the FAA.
It puts Hochul in a tough spot.
The business community — the construction trades and hotel industry — back the project. Hochul is running for re-election next year and these groups are big donors.
But a growing number of lawmakers whose support she’s seeking to keep the governorship are opposed.
Hochul is not tipping her hand.
“Governor Hochul is committed to a world-class airport and transportation network, and she is working with the Port Authority, community members, elected officials, and advocates to ensure fiscal transparency and robust engagement,” a spokesperson, Hazel Crampton-Hays, said in a statement.
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