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AirTrain ride to Jamaica to come in January 2003

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Passengers traveling from Jamaica to John F. Kennedy International Airport may get their first AirTrain ride sooner than expected.

The $1.9 billion light rail system, which will link Jamaica’s Long Island Rail Road station with JFK, is now projected to be completed in January 2003, several months earlier than expected, an engineer overseeing the construction said Monday.

A rail loop on the airport will connect passengers with all of the airline terminals, long-term parking, Federal Circle for rental cars and Howard Beach by November 2002, said William Foley, engineer of construction for AirRail Transit Construction, which is building the AirTrain’s elevated tracks.

Until Monday, the most recent predictions had the Jamaica connection operational by the middle of 2003, but with all of the pilings and columns already standing along the Van Wyck Expressway, that date has been moved up to January.

Foley reported on the progress of AirTrain during a meeting of the Borough Board before Queens Borough President Claire Shulman Monday in Kew Gardens.

Shulman started to read a prepared statement on the AirTrain, citing all of its advantages, but stopped in mid-sentence.

“I don’t know who wrote this, but I don’t agree with it,” she said of the statement. As for the AirTrain, “it’s OK, it’ll be good for Jamaica ... but we are still hoping to get a one-seat ride from Manhattan to JFK.”

The AirTrain will connect travelers to and from John F. Kennedy International Airport with the A train at Howard Beach and 740 daily Long Island Rail Road trains and E, J and Z subway lines at Jamaica Station.

Guideway construction along the Van Wyck is nearing completion with five of the seven overpasses complete, Foley said.

The concrete pad under the rails is only 40 percent complete and the rail is 30 percent complete on the off-airport stretch. The electric wires that will power the rails and much of the walkway between the two tracks also remains to be finished on this stretch of the AirTrain route, Foley said.

At the airport, all of the guideway and half of the rails are complete. Most of the walkway is finished, but only 30 percent of the power lines are in place.

The 10 AirTrain stations, including Jamaica, Howard Beach, long-term parking, Federal Circle, and the airline terminals are still under construction.

The Howard Beach station is 70 percent complete and the long-term parking station is 80 percent complete, Foley said. Work only began a few weeks ago at Jamaica’s $316 million station, under contract to Perini/Tudor Sliba.

The Jamaica station construction will be coupled with numerous LIRR renovations and accompanied by some service changes.

After the report, Foley addressed a question from City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) on the low percentage of minority and women-owned businesses participating in the AirTrain construction project. It is a concern that has been circulating in the southeast Queens community since the start of construction.

Foley said minority and women-owned businesses made up 14 percent of the AirTrain workers thus far, falling short of the goal of 17 percent, but because the job of Perini/Tudor Sliba has just begun, there is time to catch up.

Carol Gibson, outreach director for the Jamaica Station AirTrain office, said the community is concerned that the goal will not be met, and James Davis, chairman of Community Board 12, agreed.

Davis acknowledged another community concern about construction on Sundays, but Foley said he could not predict what schedule Perini/Tudor Sliba would adopt for construction.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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