n the Oct. 28, 1992 Gazette a decade old plan for a high tech, elevated, automated monorail system linking Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports with major rail and mass transit facilities to speed passengers to airports was reported as “finally getting off the ground”.
The plan was set to include service to the east side of Manhattan along the outer edges of the Queensboro Bridge.
The $1 billion system, which boasted that it had environmental benefits as well, had always lacked funding.
This problem, according to Port Authority Executive Director Stanley Brezenoff, was solved with the approval of a Federal government plan to tax $3 for every passenger departing Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Airports, all of which are operated by the Port Authority. The tax plan called for the collection of $282 million over three years.
The route of the proposed elevated monorail system, as explained by Director of the PA’s Airport Access Program Edward J. O’Sullivan was as follows: From Kennedy Airport along the Van Wyck Expressway median rite-of-way to the Long Island Railroad at Sutphin Boulevard and Liberty Avenue in Jamaica; then either along the Grand Central Parkway or Van Wyck Expressway. Median to Willets Point for connections with the North Shore spur of the LIRR and a possible monorail stop at Main Street in Flushing with a connection into LaGuardia Airport along the south shoulder of the Grand Central Parkway, exiting the airport along the Brooklyn- Queens Expressway. And along the Amtrak Railroad rite-of-way to the north side of the Sunnyside rail yards, and then to the Queensboro Bridge, where the monorail guide rail would be constructed in the foot paths and bicycle paths on either side of the span.
Sounds simple, right?
Six years later, an alternative system was implemented with the construction of the AirTrain system in 1998. The project was delayed by the derailment of a test train on Sept. 27, 2002, which resulted in the death of the 23-year-old operator Kelvin DeBourgh Jr.
The $1.9 billion AirTrain system faced criticism from Southeast Queens residents who feared the project could become a debacle, especially after DeBourgh’s death. The Port Authority responded to residents’ concerns by imposing strict rules regarding disruptive or loud construction activity and implementing a streamlined damage claim process that quickly compensated homeowners who suffered damage to their homes as a result of construction.
The AirTrain was financed in part by a federal Passenger Facility Charge revenue (collected as a $4.50 fee on virtually all outbound flight segments), which can be used only for airport-related improvements. The use of this funding required FAA approval. Several airlines challenged the use of the PFC funds for this project and hired a consultant to organize opposition. They also appealed the funding decision in court along with a small number Ozone Park residents.
The system, which departs from Jamaica Station and Howard Beach, finally opened on Dec. 17, 2003.–Jason D. Antos