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Potential extension of el draws protest in Astoria

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A list of potential routes that would link LaGuardia Airport to the city’s subway system drew harsh protests last week from local leaders vehemently opposed to one option that would extend the elevated subway through upper Astoria.

Although the 19th Avenue extension is only one of 19 potential routes for a one-seat ride to LaGuardia Airport being explored by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, community leaders believe it is the one most likely to be selected for construction.

“I think what’s been going on is they’ve been trying to conceal their true choice from the public to keep the opposition from building up,” said state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who along with Community Board 1 Chairman George Delis is leading the opposition to the plan.

The contentious proposal calls for an extension of the elevated subway line that runs along 31st Street and terminates at Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, along which the N and W lines currently run. The addition would continue above ground along 31st Street north to 19th Avenue, where it would turn east before heading underground at 44th Street.

According to Gianaris, the Astoria subway extension ranked highest among the 19 proposals on a scoring system the MTA used to determine the feasibility of each plan.

Community activists contend that an extension of the elevated subway line would destroy the residential and commercial character of 31st Street, in addition to severely interfering with industrial activity along 19th Avenue.

“In order to come into the 21st century, they’re taking down elevated lines,” said Rose Marie Poveromo, president of the United Community Civic Association in Astoria. “Why here in this great city of New York are we planning on extending elevated lines? Certainly it’s an ill-conceived plan.”

Representatives of the MTA say the community opposition is premature.

“As far as the project is concerned here, there are 19 alternatives under evaluation,” said MTA spokeswoman Lisa Schwartz. “That number has not been reduced yet to a short list.”

The MTA held a meeting June 11 to gather community input on the proposals, and expects to pare the selections down to a shorter list by the fall, Schwartz said.

But Gianaris chastised the agency for failing to involve local elected officials in the process.

“I was quite surprised, and disappointed, to hear about this meeting the day after it took place,” Gianaris wrote in a letter addressed to MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow. “I can only assume that I was not informed because of my opposition to extending the N train past its current terminus at Ditmars Boulevard.”

Astoria leaders have thrown their support behind a proposal that would put a spur at the Willets Point Boulevard stop of the elevated No. 7 train and extend the tracks to the main terminal of the airport, which they say would not pass through any residential developments.

Although plans for the LaGuardia train extension are still in their infant stages, community leaders are already planning for an extended battle in the event the MTA moves ahead with the 19th Avenue extension.

“We’re going to drag them into a courtroom,” Delis said. “We’re going to do everything we can to stop this before it destroys our neighborhood.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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