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‘Single worst quarter on record’: Port Authority considers stalling LaGuardia AirTrain

FILE PHOTO: Travelers pass a sign alerting them to distance at LaGuardia Airport, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York, U.S., June 29, 2020. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo)

COVID-19 and an obstinate federal government are causing not only hellish losses for Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, but could impact jobs supported by expansion projects at JFK and LaGuardia Airports, agency leaders say.

After six months of watching coronavirus decimate revenue streams for PANYNJ, Executive Director Rick Cotton and other board members are calling the second quarter of 2020 the worst on record as of Thursday. Revenue loss comes to about $800 million since the beginning of March through ridership decline on the PATH to low airport traffic.

“In light of these revenue declines, Port Authority’s historic $31 billion capital plan will need to be revised,” Cotton said. “The revenue losses from the coronavirus will force the Port Authority to reevaluate the scheduling of every major project… Without direct federal financial assistance, the Port Authority will be force to reconsider its ten year capital plan in ways that would involve undermining billions of dollars of construction spending, and threatening the creation of thousands of good paying jobs in a region that represents nearly 15% of the national GDP.”

According to Cotton, two of the projects that may be shelved if the $3 billion deficit is not filled in would be a replacement of the AirTrain to Newark Airport, as well as the controversial AirTrain project between Willets Point in Queens to LaGuardia Airport. PANYNJ expected these projects, along with the replacement of the Manhattan Bus Terminal, to bring in about $10 billion of private investment.

“That private investment could easily be entirely lost if these projects are cut,” Cotton said.

The LaGuardia AirTrain has been unpopular since it was first introduced to the public with residents of northern Queens arguing they are underserved by state funds as it is and that a light rail going through their neck of the woods just should not be a high priority for tax dollar spending.

(Screenshot/PANYNJ)

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been just one outspoken opponent, having issued a statement on Wednesday against the AirTrain for not only the reasons listed above, but for the fact Corona, East Elmhurst and other parts of the borough have taken a beating from coronavirus since its onset in March.

“The community surrounding LaGuardia was among the hardest hit by COVID-19, and many of its residents are now facing eviction or other serious economic consequences of the pandemic. These families have been crying out for relief for months. While state and local funding is desperately needed in the next COVID-19 relief package, it would be the ultimate insult to finally send aid to this community in the form of a project that they firmly oppose,” Ocasio-Cortez said. ““The proposed Willis Point route is likely to lead to overcrowding on the 7 train… There are also valid ecological concerns about the construction through park and marshland that this route would require. Most importantly, however, is the general disregard for community input.

Accommodating airport travelers may not end up be the highest priority for PANYNJ for the time-being, however, as the traffic through the airports they oversee continues to make a slow comeback from a decrease of about 98% in April.

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