By Betsy Scheinbart

Construction on the Jamaica Terminal for the AirTrain has begun and key elements of the $1.9 billion transportation system from Kennedy Airport to the downtown station and Howard Beach been have been completed, the Port Authority announced last week.

Construction of the $316 million station at Jamaica began last month after the contract was awarded to Perini/Tudor Sliba. Several AirTrain support columns already stand within view of the Long Island Rail Road station at Jamaica.

The AirTrain terminal is jointly funded by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Construction workers have completed more than five miles of elevated tracks connecting the airport terminals and all the train’s concrete support columns along the Van Wyck Expressway median.

In addition, over five miles of the eight-mile elevated guideway at the airport have been completed since construction began about two years ago, including the erection of 327 columns supporting 332 guideway spans — an average of one 110 to 130 foot span every other day.

The AirTrain is funded by $1.3 billion from the FAA-authorized Passenger Facility Charge, a $3 fee collected from all departing passengers at airports across the country. The remaining $600 million comes from capital funds. No state or city tax revenue is being used to fund the AirTrain.

The Port Authority estimates 34,000 passengers will ride the AirTrain each day and more than 12 million a year.

Eight miles of AirTrain tracks will connect John F. Kennedy International Airport with the E, J, and Z subway lines at Jamaica, the A line at Howard Beach and 740 LIRR trains a day at Jamaica.

The train’s free, on-airport loop and the connection to Howard Beach are expected to be operational by the end of 2002 and the passengers should be making the trip from Jamaica to JFK in 2003, the Port Authority said.

“When AirTrain is complete, we will have in place the crucial first step to providing travelers with a one-seat ride to JFK,” said Gov. George Pataki.

The one-seat ride would involve linking AirTrain tracks with LIRR tracks to Manhattan. The AirTrain cars currently being tested at JFK do not meet federal crash test standards required for LIRR tracks, but trains could be developed in the future which could mesh the two systems, said Tony Cracciolo, the director of the Port Authority’s Capital Programs.

The Port Authority estimates the trip from Manhattan by subway and AirTrain will take a combined 36 minutes to JFK, a drastic reduction from the traffic-ridden car ride down the Van Wyck, which can take up to two hours, Pataki said.

“Not only does this project serve a vital primary purpose — improving access to Kennedy Airport for travelers and employees while alleviating highway traffic — but it also provides the added benefit of creating 4,150 construction jobs and generating $580 million in wages,” Pataki said.

Construction of the elevated AirTrain tracks on the Van Wyck has reached Linden Boulevard and will soon move east from Atlantic Avenue toward Jamaica. The guideway should be completed late this year as the Howard Beach stations begins to take shape, said Port Authority Executive Director Neil Levin said.

“This project, sought by planners for decades, is fast becoming a reality,” Levin said.

The fully automated AirTrain cars will be tested this summer on a portion of the powered rail between Howard Beach and the control center. Meanwhile, 20 of 32 new cars are in development at the contractor’s plant in Kingston, Ontario, Levin said.

Construction is already underway at each of the train’s six station stops at the terminals as well as stations at the employee and long-term parking lot near Lefferts Boulevard and the Federal Circle and rental car area, Levin said.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

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