A group of advocates and Queens residents have sued the federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey over the approval of the controversial $2.05 billion AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport.
The suit filed with the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals Monday, Sept. 20, alleges that a July order by the Federal Aviation Administration illegally dismissed alternatives to the expensive people-mover, and wrongly allows the agency to build over parkland without properly considering the other options.
“People have a right to enjoy the waterfront. The laws that were violated are there to ensure that communities and the environment are not harmed by decisions without a careful consideration of alternatives,” said Mike Dulong, an attorney for the environmentalist group Riverkeeper.
The organization filed the petition with local activists Guardians of Flushing Bay, and the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association.
On July 20, President Joe Biden’s FAA issued a so-called Record of Decision green-lighting the Port Authority’s application to build the AirTrain that would transport riders between the Mets-Willets Point subway station on the 7 line to LaGuardia Airport.
In March, the FAA rejected 45 transit alternatives in an environmental review using eight “arbitrary” criteria, according to the suit, such as extending the N/W subway, launching ferry service, or building out better buses – any one of which could have provided a one-seat ride from Midtown Manhattan.
Petitioners argue the selection process was deliberately set up to exclude anything but the AirTrain, a longtime pet project of ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The 2.3-mile elevated train would cut across a roughly 2,100-foot stretch of parkland along the Malcolm X Promenade at Flushing Bay.
The petitioners say the “flaws” in FAA’s process and conclusion don’t meet federal requirements for the review under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Department of Transportation Act of 1966.
Specifically, the FAA constrained its review to preclude any non-rail alternatives, applied criteria so that only the AirTrain would make it through the screening, and approved use of the parkland despite there being feasible alternatives.
The suit also alleges that the FAA also falsely gave the Port Authority the power to move employee parking offsite to make room for concessions, but didn’t consider the impact of the commercial activity.
“The public simply has no way to determine whether the AirTrain is in the best interests of the region with the least impact on local communities and the environment,” reads the petition.
Transit advocates have long criticized the AirTrain for not providing a one-seat, single-fare ride from Manhattan to the airport, and for carrying travelers headed to the island the wrong way east, before they hop on the subway going west.
A recent review by the watchdog group Reinvent Albany found that the project would net just shy of 6,000 new daily trips, making it the most expensive transit project per ride in the world, dethroning the costly Second Avenue subway extension.
Petitioners want the panel of appeals judges to deem FAA’s July order and the March environmental review on which it is based unlawful and make the FAA redo its original evaluations.
A Port Authority spokesman voiced confidence that the court will uphold the Washington’s decision for the project.
“The Biden Administration’s transportation experts green-lighted the badly-overdue LaGuardia AirTrain after reviewing more than 25,000 pages of studies and other materials, and analyzing more than 40 alternatives,” said Thomas Topousis in a statement. “We are confident that the panel of federal judges who will now independently review this matter will affirm that the AirTrain is now ready to be built.”
The FAA’s press office did not respond for comment by deadline.