FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM SEPTEMBER 17, 2020 • THE QUEENS COURIER 23
LaGuardia AirTrain is bound for glory
BY HOPE KNIGHT
are familiar to anyone
who has lived or
worked in southeast
Queens, where two
decades ago we heard the same outcry
over the proposal to build an AirTrain to
JFK International Airport.
“Nobody will use it.” “Construction
will destroy our neighborhoods.”
“AirTrain will drive down our property
values.” And, “AirTrain will do nothing to
improve our local, struggling economy.”
Seventeen years aft er AirTrain JFK
went into service, connecting the LIRR
station at Jamaica with JFK International
Airport, not one of those fears were realized.
In fact, AirTrain JFK’s legacy is
quite the opposite.
Take for example, predictions that
AirTrain would lower property values.
Th e reality is that property values
increased aft er AirTrain.
Within a study area ranging two to
three blocks from the AirTrain route
on either side of VanWyck Expressway
property values doubled within the fi rst
six years of the project’s completion.
Clearly, AirTrain JFK, built on a modern
concrete elevated track down the middle
of a major highway didn’t have the negative
impact on property values some
opponents once feared.
What about claims that AirTrain would
not live up to projections on ridership,
because it didn’t provide a one-seat ride
to Midtown Manhattan?
Well, the ridership projections were off
the mark. AirTrain carried far more passengers
than projected and that ridership
increased every year prior to the current
Ridership on AirTrain JFK reached
8.7 million last year, including 6.7 million
riders taking AirTrain to and from
the LIRR station in Jamaica – a fi ve-fold
increase since the fi rst full year of operation
AirTrain didn’t just benefi t travelers
moving to and from JFK, it also benefi ted
residents in and around Jamaica as well
as across the city who now had greater
access to the 40,000 jobs at the airport –
one of the borough’s top employers.
With millions of travelers – many of
them international visitors – moving
through Jamaica every year, AirTrain has
dramatically expanded our downtown’s
historic role as a transportation hub and
commercial center, which has enjoyed
the largest wave of economic growth in
more than 60 years.
Th e arrival of AirTrain, coupled with a
2007 rezoning, has clearly been a signifi -
cant catalyst for that growth.
Since these two pivotal moments,
Downtown Jamaica has attracted more
than $1 billion in private and public
investment to create more than 5 million
square feet of new space. Currently,
nearly 6 million square feet is in various
stages of development across Downtown
Jamaica, including more than 4,000
mixed-income and market-rate apartments
and over 2,000 hotel rooms.
Th e arrival of AirTrain, just minutes
from JFK Airport, has linked Downtown
Jamaica to the powerful economic engine
that is JFK International Airport. New
hotels designed for travelers now just a
short ride from their airline terminals are
sprouting up across Downtown Jamaica.
You can see the construction all around
Jamaica’s transit hub, where the $350 million
AirTrain Station connects to the
LIRR Station, both just a short walk from
the subway and an MTA bus terminal.
Th e Crossing at Jamaica Station
includes 669 new apartments in two
buildings. Th e redevelopment of the former
Mary Immaculate Hospital is creating
upwards of 1,000 apartments. A
former NYPD garage on 168th Street is
being transformed into the Archer Green
Apartments with 380 new residential
units. Th ose are just a few of more than a
dozen residential projects.
Based on our record of success, an
AirTrain proposed for LaGuardia would
have a similar and positive impact on
the communities nearest the airport,
which are, like Jamaica, extraordinarily
diverse and full of potential for economic
A new and modern AirTrain station at
Willets Point would connect to expanded,
permanent LIRR service to Penn
Station and Grand Central Terminal –
that’s a big win for travelers, who would
get a reliable and fast ride to Midtown
But it’s also a win for some of the
region’s major sports venues at CitiField
and the US Tennis association. And it
would open a wider door to one of
the city’s great parks, Flushing Meadows
And consider the potential impact of
a new station and expanded LIRR service
on the 61-acre Willets Point development
zone. AirTrain could be the catalyst
that creates new housing, hotels,
retail and recreation on a blighted and
formerly industrial section of Flushing
If AirTrain is only partially as successful
in the communities around LaGuardia as
it has been in Jamaica, we predict it will
have been well worth the investment as
we all work to rebound from our current
crisis and rebuild smarter and stronger
for a more equitable future.
Hope Knight is president and CEO
of the Greater Jamaica Development
Queens can’t aff ord California-style rolling blackouts
To be a business
owner in Queens,
you have to be a survivor.
Since 2007, businesses
the depths of the Great Recession, the
damage of Hurricane Sandy, the pain of
escalating rents of the past few years, and
the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic
and economic shutdown.
Maintaining a business through just
one of these obstacles is truly a feat. I
know thousands who have made extremely
diffi cult decisions to weather all of these
And if we don’t take steps to strengthen
our electrical grid today, we could
soon be adding “rolling blackouts” to
the list of calamities. New Yorkers have
already faced diffi cult, life-altering challenges:
from months of job losses, to food
shortages, and even the lack of basic conveniences
like toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Blackouts would be an immense
challenge added to a long list of hardships
in front of us.
Th at’s why NRG’s plan to replace outdated
50-year-old turbines at the Astoria
Generating Station with state-of-the-art
technology – the most effi cient and cleanest
available today – is so important. NRG
will install a new turbine that immediately
reduces onsite peak emission rates by
up to 99 percent and result in the removal
of nearly 5 million tons of greenhouse gas
emissions over the next 15 years. Th at’s
the equivalent of taking 64,000 cars off
the road in Astoria. Th e new technology
can also be converted to use zero carbon
hydrogen fuel, transitioning to become a
source of clean energy in the future.
Th e Astoria Generating Station is one of
New York City’s “peaker plants,” specifi cally
designed to start up quickly when the electrical
grid needs support. Just a few weeks
aft er 150,000 New Yorkers lost power from
Tropical Storm Isaias, the importance of
electricity reliability has never been clearer.
It’s a certainty that more New Yorkers
would’ve been without power if it wasn’t for
peaking plants supporting the grid.
It goes without saying that our hospitals,
schools, restaurants, shops and small
businesses cannot operate without reliable
power. In the middle of the COVID-
19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of
homes and apartments need more electricity
because they are now the places
where children are learning, parents
are working, and vulnerable seniors are
depending on air conditioning and heating
for their health.
With climate change causing more
extreme temperatures, it’s very likely that
over the next few years, demands on
the system will increase, making peaker
plants even more essential. Astoria
Generating Station alone will be able to
power more than 375,000 homes, while
reducing emissions and building for the
Failing to plan for peak demand is
destructive – just ask California. On Aug.
14 and Aug. 15, the state was forced into
rolling blackouts in the middle of a heat
wave because there were not enough local
power plants to meet demand. Th ey even
tried to purchase out-of-state power to
make up the diff erence, but those plants
were already committed to other customers.
In short, we cannot allow what happened
in California to happen in Queens.
Th e business owners I speak with in
Queens fully support New York’s aggressive
plans for addressing climate change.
Renewable energy technology like wind
turbines, solar panels and battery storage
are critical to ensuring we’re meeting
our targets. But it’s just as important to
recognize that we need redundancy built
into our power grid so that our economy
isn’t susceptible to crippling blackouts.
Until renewable technology can fully
meet New York City’s needs, we need a
backup power supply that can be called
into action so that our businesses, homes,
hospitals and schools can continue to
operate when the sun isn’t shining or the
wind isn’t blowing.
NRG will remove some of the oldest
turbines in our region and replace them
with new technology that will be more
effi cient with signifi cantly less emissions
resulting in much cleaner air now. NRG
is also making this investment on their
own, without any subsidy from ratepayers
or taxpayers. At the same time, this
project will create 175 union construction
jobs over three years and pump
more than $325 million into the economy
through 2040. In the middle of one of the
worst unemployment crises in New York
City’s history, we shouldn’t be turning our
back on projects that off er these kinds of
important economic benefi ts.
Queens business owners know a bad
storm coming when they see one, and single
minded opposition to a critical infrastructure
project would create all the conditions
for another maelstrom. We have a
better path: keeping the lights on in our
homes and businesses and improving air
quality now while Queens transitions to
renewable sources of power.
Th omas J. Grech is president & CEO of
the Queens Chamber of Commerce, which
has over 1,150 members serving more than
100,000 Queens-based employees.