PREPARING Light-rail cars are wrapping up testing Queens station nears completion for airport link.

Major elements of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s $1.9-billion AirTrain project are nearing completion. The light-rail cars, delayed by a year due to a fatal accident, will begin service to John F. Kennedy International Airport before this year’s end. And the last major segment of the job, a light-rail station in Jamaica, Queens, is expected to wrap up in November.

In Jamaica, the glass-and-steel-enclosed, four-story AirTrain station, about 400 ft long, 30 ft wide and 40 ft high, is evolving into a remote airline check-in location. "When you arrive there, you will feel like you’re arriving at the airport," says Bob Davidson, port authority architect. The agency is negotiating with potential airline tenants for the 16 baggage check-in counters planned for build-out. "We have enough back-of-house space to deal with security," Davidson adds, referring to future updates to federal baggage screening requirements.

The station work was coordinated with a $316-million contract held by a joint venture of Perini Corp. and Tutor-Saliba across active tracks to expand and rehabilitate the existing subway and Long Island Rail Road station that will connect to the AirTrain station’s fourth floor via an enclosed walkway.

Building a station next to a transit hub that serves 200,000 commuters a day was challenging, says Gary Winsper, project manager for AirRail Transit Consortium, the design-build-operate-maintain team led by Slattery Skanska. Until the Perini/Tutor Saliba contract is finished in 2005, "people will have to come through the terminal...and cross over to the connector into the [AirTrain] station."

Davidson says that the LIRR station will sport painted and ornamental stainless steel for longevity. "LIRR was concerned about this having at least a 50-year life," he says. A new mezzanine and glass curtain walls are being erected.

The AirTrain station, track and utilities, coated with epoxy to contain electrical currents, have to be built in space with existing active tracks and utilities, notes Winsper, so avoiding "stray current" was a challenge.

The nearly completed complex has spurred plans for transit-oriented de-velopment in Jamaica. John D. Markunas, marketing director for the Greater Jamaica Development Corp., says the agency plans a corporate square around the station that would include, among other elements, a 10-story hotel, mews and green space, and a 500,000-sq-ft office building plus 25,000 sq ft of retail. Development would occur in 40,000-sq-ft parcels over 15 years.

Citing the anticipated 12-minute, $5 ride on AirTrain between Jamaica and the airport, Markunas says the goal is to draw from the 3.6-million people who live within an hour of downtown Jamaica– as well as passengers with time to kill from JFK. "We want Jamaica to be a cool place to be," he says. To that end, "AirTrain is the biggest project."

(Photos courtesy of Michael Macioce/Slattery Skanska)