BY JON CRONIN
LaGuardia Airport may get its own Airtrain to Willets Point and a stop on the Brooklyn Queens Express streetcar, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz announced Tuesday morning.
The audience at the sold-out Queens Chamber of Commerce breakfast applauded Katz’s announcement on the two transportation projects.
“Folks seem to like that we are poppin’ in Queens,” said Katz when she took the stage at the LaGuardia Plaza Hotel in Elmhurst on Tuesday.
Katz said that Governor Andrew Cuomo released a request for proposal (RFP) on Monday asking for suggestions on the engineering of the AirTrain from LaGuardia to Willets Point and the routes that could be used. She said the path chosen would have to be the “least obtrusive” to the community.
Currently, the Long Island Rail Road has a stop at Willets Point that operates intermittently during large events. Katz said one option could be to keep that rail line open full time.
“It is a good thing for the neighborhood, a good thing for the community and a good thing for the folks coming from LaGuardia,” she said.
Katz believes that no matter what happens with the proposed AirTrain project, the MTA should open up the LIRR line full time.
She added that the same RFP calls for rental cars to be moved out of the community near LaGuardia Airport and put on site.
Regarding Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $3 billion BQX streetcar, Katz said when they finally decide on a route, she would like to see it be close to the NYCHA housing along the waterway.
“And if we’re gonna do this, I suggested, why don’t we connect it to LaGuardia Airport?” she said. “I think it would make it a lot more useful to the people of Queens.”
She also wants the designers to pick a path for the streetcar and she wants them to go back to the communities through which it will run to ask for input.
While Katz was discussing development in Queens, she brought up the delayed Willets Point project that she sponsored when she was in the City Council 12 years ago. Since then, it has been involved in a lawsuit that halted the project. Despite the project embroiled in the courts, Katz believes that the area should be cleaned up.
She pointed out that the Mets were in the pennant last year and in the World Series the year before, and “people came from all around the world.” She said the impression they likely formed of Queens resulted from how they viewed Willets Point. Katz called for a “cleanup” of that area.
She hopes Willets Point can be occupied one day by a hockey or soccer stadium.
The borough president also highlighted significant changes in Queens during her tenure. She said that booming development has forever changed the Long Island City skyline, and the World’s Fair Pavilion has been given a paint job in its original banana yellow and will be lit within a year. She added that Queens had a 4.6 percent population increase since 2010, which is the largest population increase of any borough, and a five percent increase in job growth since November 2013.
She also noted that the Queens tourism industry has seen the highest growth in the city outside of Manhattan.
“When they come here we have to make sure we have first-class airports, ’cause unless they’re flying in to Jersey, to get to New York you have to come through Queens,” she said.
This is also one of the reasons that she’s happy that the old TWA terminal at JFK Airport will be turned into a new “first-class hotel,” where travelers can sleep, dine and meet outside Manhattan.
Regarding the overcrowded schools in the borough, Katz said that although they have removed 43 trailers from schools and created thousands of seats for elementary and high school students, it is still not enough. She said the high schools are operating at an average of 110 percent capacity and elementary schools have an average of 120 percent capacity.
Katz also noted that many hospitals have closed in the borough in the past decade, but that their closure had to do with patients’ not filling the bed space needed. She suggested that freestanding emergency rooms could offset the closing of hospitals in places like Southeast Queens.
Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, email@example.com or @JonathanSCronin