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The Civic Scene: Billions for AirTrain could be better spent

Some people think that the train route being built to take people from Manhattan to Kennedy Airport will be an "economic engine" for Queens.

But I would like to see at least some of these billions spent instead to build new schools, repair existing ones, renovate parks, put in new sewer lines in Southeast Queens, and repair roads, all in a timely manner.

We are being flooded with stories and full-page advertisements by the Port Authority telling of the progress of the JFK AirTrain around JFK and from JFK to the Long Island Rail Road at Jamaica Center. This is being paid for by the $3 fee every passenger pays when using JFK Airport. A spur from JFK to the Howard Beach station of the A train subway station will provide a second route to Manhattan. This is the old A Train ride of several years ago which didn't attract enough passengers and is now defunct.

The civic associations along the Van Wyck Expressway have been fighting the AirTrain since its inception. The Southeast Queens Concerned Neighbors is annoyed about the heavy construction along the Van Wyck Expressway, the fact that there are no stops in Southeast Queens for the people there, and the huge amount of money being spent.

Leading the fight has been Ruth Brya, co-chairwoman of the Southeast Queens Concerned Neighbors and Marge Hill, a vice president of the Queens Civic Congress.

The Briarwood Civic Association, whose president is Sy Schwartz, and the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, whose president is Patricia Dolan, have opposed the AirTrain because they fear that someday someone will try to ram the mono-rail through their neighborhoods straight up to LaGuardia Airport. They don't want trains running over their homes.

Another opponent of the AirTrain has been the Committee for Better Transit, which fights for the improvement of mass transit in the Metropolitan Area. They feel that yes, a seamless ride to the airport is needed, but not these expensive, truncated proposals.

In May the New York Empire State Development Corporation issued an "Expression of Interest" to create a new seamless ride from Penn Station to JFK Airport. Their plans call for using the existing LIRR infrastructure from Penn Station with a fly-over directly into the airport from a point west of the Sutphin Boulevard LIRR station.

The ESDC gave a presentation to the Queens Civic Congress. The have told Schwartz, who is also chairman of the Transportation Committee of Community Board 8, that this project would be compatible with the AirTrain and would use some of the same tracks and structures.

There is now a Request For Proposals for this new "one-seat" ride from Penn Station to JFK.

Now for the billions which these routes will cost. The $1.9 billion AirTrain is being paid for by the $3 airport flight fees plus some money Governor Pataki promised to pay for the tracks outside the airport along the Van Wyck Expressway up to Jamaica.

This money is only part of New York State's five-year $34.2 billion transportation program recently agreed to by Governor Pataki, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. One of the concerns about this plan is the amount of debt which will be created for us just when the federal government is reducing its debt. I am concerned about how much of this money will get lost the way the Second Avenue Subway money voted for in past bond issues got lost.

Good and Bad News

of the Week

It is good that we have the Internet and stock brokers so people can invest in stocks and make money. The problem is that some people manipulate stocks to raise their prices and then sell to make a profit.

It seems that a 15-year-old high school kid did just that. He posted false stories in Internet chat rooms about stocks, boosting up their prices. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission made him return $285,000 to the U.S. Treasury. No jail time, and he even kept thousands of dollars. Why? It is sad that his father was proud of his son's actions - his father likely would be in jail now if he did the same thing.

And some people want to let seniors invest some of their Social Security retirement money in the stock market???

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