He wants to ground another of disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pet projects.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a powerful Queens lawmaker instrumental in killing Cuomo’s signature deal to have e-tail giant Amazon open a headquarters along the borough’s waterfront, is now setting his sights on the “wrong way” $2.1 billion “AirTrain” between LaGuardia Airport and Eastern Queens.
“I think we should put a stop to building this particular proposal and find the best option available,” said Gianaris, the deputy majority leader of the Senate.
“The LaGuardia AirTrain is significantly over budget,” said Gianaris, the deputy majority leader of the Senate.
The LGA AirTrain was a top priority of 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.
Cuomo’s replacement, Gov. Kathy Hochul, said she’s reviewing whether to proceed with the AirTrain project. Her most recent comments have been lukewarm at best.
Gianaris’ opposition puts Hochul in a tough spot, given his leadership role in the Senate. She needs the Senate Democratic majority to back her agenda next year while likely facing a stiff Democratic primary re-election challenge.
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 or the “wrong way”— before connecting to the crowded 7 subway line 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.
A cross-section of Queens lawmakers representing racially, ethnically and ideologically diverse neighborhoods across the borough now oppose AirTrain.
Sen. Jessica Ramos, who represents the East Elmhurst neighborhood by LaGuardia Airport, opposes the project, as does Sens Leroy Comrie, who chairs the committee that oversees the PA as well as Sens. John Liu and Toby Stavisky, who represent eastern and central Queens.
Liu, the former city comptroller who represents North Eastern Queens, which is served by the 7 train, told The Post on Sunday he’s against the LGA AirTrain as currently designed.
“A modernized transit link to LaGuardia Airport is vital to our region’s vitality and should be pursued in a collaborative and sustainable matter. The plan as currently conceived is far from that and should be returned to the drawing board,” Liu said in a statement.
“Infrastructure projects of this size, scope and cost must always consider benefits to the immediately impacted community as well as to the greater region.”
Gianaris — whose Astoria/Long Island City district borders LaGuardia Airport from the west — agreed with critics’ arguments that the AirTrain is misguided.
“The current proposal would have people taking the overcrowded 7 train and then doubling back. A lot of people won’t take advantage,” he said.
He added, “It’s about getting people to the airport faster and getting out of their cars.”
But Gianaris claimed the AirTrain would do the opposite — having people driving to Willet’s Point to park their cars and then get on the AirTrain, turning the area into a giant parking lot
“I believe it would encourage driving, not discourage it,” he said.
“There’s a value to connecting LaGuardia Airport to the subway system — but it has to make sense. The current AirTrain project is not the best option. There are better ways to encourage people to get to and from LaGuardia than through this project.
Gianaris said Cuomo pressured the Port Authority, controlled by New York board members he appointed, to approve the AirTrain project with flimsy and slanted analysis.
He also said new federal rules allow for other alternatives such as the extension of the subway line to the airport.
The N/W train in Astoria is the closest train line to LaGuardia Airport.
Gianaris said extending an elevated N/W line along Astoria Boulevard and the Grand Central Parkway is an option worth exploring, without cutting through residential areas. Previous attempts to extend the subway line from Astoria to LaGuardia were thwarted by community opposition because of the disruption it would cause.
The PA has 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 previous 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.
PA sources also claim said extending the N/W line from Astoria to the airport is not feasible and express frustration that opponents have not offered viable alternatives.
Supporters include the Queens Chamber of Commerce.
Gianaris was the pivotal institutional figure in scuttling the Cuomo-negotiated deal for Amazon to locate a massive East Coast headquarters along the Long Island City waterfront, in his district. He was miffed that he wasn’t consulted on the details of the agreement with the city and state, and objected to providing one of the largest global companies with $3 billion in tax and other government subsidies.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins appointed Amazon foe Gianaris as her rep to an obscure panel, the state Public Authorities Control Board, which had the power to stymie or block the project. Amazon withdrew its plan to build a campus in LIC on Feb. 14, 2019 –shortly after Gianaris was given the post to block the ambitious project.
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