Just hours after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced his resignation in light of sexual harassment allegations, staff members of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey urged the agency’s leaders to halt development of one of his pet projects—the $2.1-billion AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport.
Cuomo has long defied heavy criticism of the 1.5-mile automated system that would transport an estimated 9,100 passengers daily to airport terminals from a transfer station serving New York City’s No. 7 subway line and Long Island Rail Road’s Port Washington branch. Opponents counter that the AirTrain approach is inherently inefficient, and that less expensive transit alternatives were available. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) greenlighted the LaGuardia AirTrain last month.
In their Aug. 10 letter to Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton, reported by the New York Daily News, agency staffers alleged that Cuomo and his staff “repeatedly pushed the agency to make non-transparent, politically motivated decisions, including decisions that squander the trust and money of our bondholders, customers, and the general public.”
The document, which local reports say came from “dozens” of Port Authority staff members who asked for anonymity out of fear of retaliation during Cuomo’s remaining days in office, also called on the agency’s Inspector General to investigate the possibility of “undue influence” by Cuomo to manipulate the project’s Environmental Impact Statement process.
Earlier this year, the Riverkeeper environmental group released documents and emails from March 2019 indicating that FAA officials had expressed concerns about deficiencies in the Port Authority’s environmental process. Obtained through a freedom of information request, the documents cited the Port Authority’s use of “arbitrary and unevenly applied criteria” to rule out consideration of buses or extensions of existing subway lines, leaving the AirTrain as the only viable alternative.
Nevertheless, the FAA’s July 20, 2021, record of decision in favor of the AirTrain noted that a subway extension would have disruptive effects on area traffic, and requiring utility relocations and excavation around trestles leading to the Amtrak-owned Hell Gate Bridge. According to project opponents, the FAA ultimately duplicated the Port Authority’s environmental review methodology to reach a similar conclusion.
The Port Authority has not publicly commented on the employees’ letter or its accusations. Although no contracts have been finalized, construction on the four-year project was scheduled to begin in 2022.