Did you know that New York City has a fourth airport that, once upon a time, was designated the next major Metropolitan-area airport? Well, so much for that plan.
Nestled in Orange County, just west of Newburgh, lies Stewart International Airport. It’s 80 miles outside of New York City, and if you can get there, it is the home of the some of the cheapest flights around the area. It never did achieve Gov. Rockefeller’s goals of becoming the fourth major airport in the region (behind LaGuardia, JFK and Newark), but that hasn’t stopped various state entities from trying to boost its profile.
The latest effort comes in the form of everyone’s favorite airport buzz phrase: a rail link. According to a report in Monday’s edition of The Sun, the MTA is studying the possibility of a rail link between Penn Station and the airport. The link, which would consist of a three-mile spur off of Metro-North’s Port Jervis line, would probably bring about a renewed interested in this transportation hub nestled just outside the world of New York City.
Annie Karni of The Sun has more:
Transit officials say a three-mile spur off the Port Jervis line on Metro-North Railroad, which could cost more than $600 million to construct, could be an efficient way to attract passengers and airlines to the underutilized upstate airport, where the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is expected to take control of operations in October.
The airport now is accessible only by country roads, and driving to the airport from Manhattan takes about an hour and a half without traffic. The former military base, located about 60 miles north of Manhattan, accommodated 300,000 passengers last year; transit officials estimate that its infrastructure could be expanded to process up to 10 million passengers annually.
The article is filled with various opinions on the rail link. Some officials say the area needs this fourth airport to be more accessible because the other three are, as any traveler can attest, overcrowded. But others, such as Jeffrey Zupan of the Regional Plan Association, think the rail link is not a financial viable idea unless it can siphon off upstate travelers who commute down to the city’s three other airports. “It’s going to be a real loser from an operating cost point of view. ” Zupan said to Karni. “It will have to run long distances and relatively frequent service, or people aren’t going to use it.”
Meanwhile, this idea seems somewhat ridiculous. It right now takes an hour and a half on Metro-North/NJ Transit to reach the Salisbury Mills stop from Penn Station. Considering that it would take another train ride to get to the airport and airlines are asking people to get there 90 minutes earlier, travelers would have to begin their journeys up to four hours before their scheduled departure time. That is quite inconvenient.
To me, this project seems like a no-brainer waste-of-money. But if the MTA is going to build something, they should fund it in a way similar to that used at JFK. The Authority could either have the airline passengers pick up the bill through a plane ticket fee and have the fares be such that costs are covered. With more pressing capital construction projects on the docket — Second Ave. subway, LIRR East Side Access plan, 7 line extension, Fulton St. hub — and a need for a JFK rail link, a line up to Stewart just seems superfluous and overly expensive at a time when the MTA really needs to prioritize.