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Agencies seek extension of AirTrain service

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Now that the long-awaited AirTrain link to Kennedy Airport is open, city and state agencies are already looking at ways to extend it and create a one-seat ride into Lower Manhattan.

Four proposals were announced last week to offer train service from the airport to Manhattan as part of a cooperative effort between the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Each of the options, which are still in their preliminary stages, would run trains along the Atlantic Avenue branch of the Long Island Rail Road in Brooklyn and stop at the Jamaica Station before heading south to Kennedy Airport, said Joanna Rose, a spokeswoman for the LMDC. The primary difference between the plans is how the trains would cross the East River, she said.

The proposals were hailed as a “win-win” solution by Carlisle Towery, president of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, one of the AirTrain’s leading advocates.

“There are a lot of ways to get to Kennedy Airport. It looks to me like it would be advantageous to Lower Manhattan, Jamaica and Kennedy Airport if the ‘super shuttle’ feeds Jamaica Station in a way that the AirTrain is accessed,” Towery said of the link. “It’s a win-win.”

It was unclear how the AirTrain would be integrated into the new link, but the system would be involved, Rose said. AirTrain, which opened in December, connects airline passengers and airport employees to mass transportation options in downtown Jamaica and Howard Beach. Proponents say the train could bring economic development to Jamaica, while critics have faulted it for not being a one-seat ride.

In cutting the ribbon on the AirTrain last year, Gov. George Pataki pledged to extend the system into Lower Manhattan.

“Direct connections between Long Island and JFK Airport into Lower Manhattan are critical to the future of a rebuilt Lower Manhattan,” Pataki said in announcing the extension proposals Feb. 4. “Major cities such as Chicago, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong possess regional commuter and international airport service from their central business districts. Today we are taking an important step towards providing airport access to Lower Manhattan.”

The connection options look at four different tunnels to carry passengers from Manhattan to Brooklyn, according to a release from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Three plans would take advantage of existing tunnels now used by city subway lines. The fourth would require the construction of a new tunnel, the release said.

The final alternative, along with construction and cost estimate plans, was expected to be announced by the end of April. Each of the plans could be completed by 2013, or 10 years from when the study began last year, said Jennifer Falk, a spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“That was considered a reasonable time period to complete a capital project of that magnitude,” she said. “We will have a better idea of a distinct time as we move forward with the environmental impact studies and analyses that have to be done.”

The proposed start date has no bearing on the city’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic games, Falk said.

“We want this to happen for New Yorkers and visitors as quickly as possible,” she said. “The possibility of accelerating construction may be dealt with.”

And while Jamaica’s leaders are looking to the AirTrain as a tool for revitalization, Lower Manhattan leaders are hoping extended airport access will spur redevelopment around the World Trade Center site.

“Building a direct connection between Lower Manhattan and the Long Island commuter hub in Jamaica will ensure that the region’s critical labor pools can better access the job opportunities that downtown New York will provide and serve as a catalyst for the economic rebirth and rebuilding of Lower Manhattan,” said John Whitehead, chairman of the LMDC.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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