By Betsy Scheinbart

The AirTrain marked another milestone last week with the completion of the elevated guideway along the Van Wyck Expressway to John F. Kennedy International Airport, a feat that has drawn applause from southeast Queens leaders.

“I am delighted that the guide rails for the AirTrain have been completed without major disruptions to the community,” said City Council Deputy Majority Leader Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans).

The $1.9 billion light rail system remains on schedule for a 2002 service kick-off.

The final segment of the AirTrain’s guideway was raised into the sky by a giant crane and lowered into position at 4:38 a.m. Aug. 15, said Pasquale DiFulco, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Construction continues on the 8.1-mile-long system, which is scheduled to connect JFK’s terminals to the Howard Beach station next year and to Jamaica in 2003.

“If we can exceed those expectations, we are certainly going to do that,” DiFulco said of the construction schedule. “We are laying rail and doing all that needs to be done to make a first-class system.”

The AirTrain remains on schedule and within budget, DiFulco said, with the free, on-airport loop scheduled to connect the airport terminals in the fourth quarter of 2002.

At the same time next year, paying passengers on the AirTrain will be able to connect to the A subway line at the Howard Beach station. Fares for the AirTrain have not yet been set.

In the second quarter of 2003, travelers and workers at JFK will be able to ride the AirTrain to Jamaica, where a new AirTrain terminal is under construction next to and on top of the Long Island Rail Road station.

In Jamaica, travelers can connect with the E, J, Z subway lines and LIRR trains each day.

When complete, the AirTrain will enable passengers to travel from Midtown Manhattan to JFK via the LIRR or subway connections in as little as 36 minutes, DiFulco said.

In May, the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation released a plan to transform Jamaica Center on the wings of the AirTrain project. The corporation is pushing for the construction of a hotel and office space near the new terminal.

“We are confident AirTrain and its Jamaica station will bring about a new phase of economic development for Jamaica Center based on airport-related business that will benefit from having a speedy and reliable connection to JFK,” said Carlisle Towery, president of Greater Jamaica.

“Once the AirTrain is completed,” City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) said in an interview last Thursday, “I think there are reasonable opportunities for the next wave of high tech to be in Queens, possibly Jamaica.”

A major development is already under way at One Jamaica Center, where a 15-screen movie theater and retail complex is being built about 10 blocks from the AirTrain station.

One Jamaica Center is scheduled to open in the spring. In addition to the theater, it is to house a Bally Total Fitness gym, an Old Navy, GAP, GAP Kids, Walgreens, Golden Krust Pizza Max and Urban America Haircutters.

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

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