Air Train Project Not Affected By Crane Fire
by john toscano
Three days after homeowners in southeast Queens held a protest demonstration against the Air Train elevated line between Jamaica and Kennedy Airport, a fire of unknown origin engulfed a crane owned by the contractor who’s building the elevated line.
Although several television and radio reports of last Friday morning’s fire listed the cause as arson, a Fire Department spokesman said that was not true, and that the fire is "still under investigation."
Last Friday, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which is having the Air Train line built as part of a system connecting Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station and city subway lines to Kennedy Airport, refused to speculate whether the PA felt there was any connection between the fire and Air Train protestors.
The spokesman did say that the fire had not caused any delay in the Air Train construction schedule.
"Work is ongoing," he stated."The Air Train project is moving forward. The fire was only an impediment."
The spokesman said the project is "half way finished" and "on schedule for completion" of the on-airport portion by 2002. The off-airport section, which is being built over the Van Wyck Expressway, is due for completion by 2003.
The Fire Department spokesman said the fire occurred in an open lot at South Conduit Avenue and the Van Wyck Expressway in Jamaica which is along the Air Train’s three-mile route. The parcel of property was described by a Port Authority spokesman as "a staging area" for the construction job. The fire was in the cab of a 130-foot crane, according to the PA. No one was at work at the time of the fire, which was reported at 1:58 a.m. Friday, the Fire Department said. No injuries were reported and no assessment of damage to the crane was given.
When the Air Train monorail project was announced several years ago, homeowners living nearby protested against it, saying it would shut out the sunlight from their community and lower property values.
Then eight days ago, a group of homeowners and residents picketed on the Rockaway Boulevard overpass over the Van Wyck Expressway. They complained that the pile driving to build the foundation for the elevated line was cracking walls and unsettling nearby homes.
The three-hour protest was conducted by the Southeast Queens Concerned Neighbors, Inc. Flyers were distributed by the group urging that public officials be contacted and urged to halt the project.
Besides ruining their homes, the protestors said, when completed the Air Train will force more Van Wyck traffic on to local streets.
Addressing the question of damage to nearby homes, a PA spokesman stated: "The damage that has occurred has been minor, but any damage that has occurred is settled with [the authority’s] insurance handlers in 48 hours."
The spokesman said that, so far, 32 damage claims had been filed and half had been settled.
Joining in the demonstration against the Air Train were members of the Environmental Justice Alliance and the Rockaway Transit Coalition.
The Air Train, which will connect the Jamaica Station of the Long Island Rail Road to JFK, is part of the airport rail plan connecting Penn Station to JFK via the LIRR and city subway lines. At the airport the Air Train will connect with an on-airport transit complex connecting all airline terminals.
As part of the plan, and as a concession to the Jamaica community, the PA plans to redevelop part of downtown Jamaica, supporting existing business, attracting airport-related businesses and creating jobs. The final obstacles to this plan were cleared last week when Governor George Pataki and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman agreed on the PA’s long-range budget, the settlement of which was delayed for 18 months.