Today’s news:

JFK Airtrain project running on schedule

Construction of the $1.5 billion JFK Airtrain rail link is going smoothly and is proceeding on schedule, Port Authority officials told the Queens Borough Board this week.

Bill Foley, the engineer for the Airtrain, described the various phases of construction at the Monday meeting.

"We are working at a rapid, orderly pace," he said.

The Airtrain is being built primarily to offer Manhattan residents a fast and cost-effective way to get to JFK by linking the Long Island Railroad to a train that will circle the terminals at the airport. But many have criticized the project, saying that since passengers will have to switch trains at Jamaica station, it is not a one-seat ride and will not be an attractive option for Manhattan consumers.

The project, which began in January 1999, is much further along at John F. Kennedy International Airport than the construction along the Van Wyck Expressway, which was started earlier this year.

Foley said that by 2002 the intra-terminal train would be running to the long-term and employee parking lots as well as the Howard Beach A train station. The Jamaica Station extension of the Airtrain is expected to be completed in 2003.

Quentin Brathwaite, the project manager, said the infrastructure for the Jamaica Station extension would be in place by the summer of 2002, but more than a year of testing will be done before the Airtrain is open to the public.

Much of the work at the airport is completed, with support columns and the elevated guideway for the tracks already in place.

By contrast, only a small percentage of the work on the portion of the project that will connect the airport to the Long Island Rail Road at Jamaica Station has been completed.

Foley said only about 20 percent of the support columns along the Van Wyck have been erected and less than 12 percent of the elevated guideway for the train tracks has been installed.

He pointed out that support columns along the Van Wyck are elliptical to compensate for the center divider on the highway.

Earlier this month the eastbound Nassau Expressway was closed for 24 hours so builders could construct the guideway to run above the road, and last week a portion of the Belt Parkway in both directions was closed for five nights.

Brathwaite said the entrances to the Van Wyck at Liberty Avenue would be temporarily closed sometime next month. "But we can't close two consecutive ramps at the same time," he said.

The construction along the Van Wyck has been a point of contention since the project was announced, and many who live in the area of the expressway have been opposed to the project.

Several weeks ago, the Southeast Queens Concerned Neighbors held several demonstrations against the project, charging that it would add to pollution and traffic in the area. Residents also complain that since the train would not make any stops between JFK and Jamaica Station, they would not be able to use it.

Several residents have also charged that the construction on the Van Wyck Expressway has damaged their homes.

A Port Authority representative at the meeting said that as of May 25, 110 people had called 718-601-7343, a number set up for residents to report damages.

She said that of those, only 50 were actual complaints about damage. Of the 50 complaints, 10 have been settled, five are nearly settled, six claims were dismissed, and six homeowners have received an offer and are making counter offers, she said.

Several weeks ago a construction crane was destroyed by a fire that officials classified as suspicious.

But Brathwaite said that even though the crane had to be replaced, it did not slow down the construction.

Officials expect that once the Airtrain is up and running, it will take about 45 minutes to go from Manhattan to JFK through Jamaica Station.

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