Around once a year, the ill-conceived plans to build, well, something out to the Stewart Airport in Orange County make headlines, and every year, I ask for that money to spent on more worthy projects. (See 2007 and 2008.)
The Stewart Airport issue is once again back in the news, and again, I’m inclined to speak out against it. This time around, the story is about the short list of potential options for this airport connection. Judy Rife writes:
A short list of options for improving bus and rail service to Stewart International Airport and New York City has emerged from the 106 suggestions that Metro-North and the Port Authority have been mulling for the past year.
Still in the running are a new rail link between the airport and Metro-North’s Salisbury Mills station, bus service between Stewart and Salisbury Mills as well as Metro-North’s Beacon station and New York City, and bus service between the airport and new or expanded park-and-rides in a roughly 45-mile radius.
Out are such ideas as ferry service between Newburgh and New York City — the trip would be too long, involve too many transfers and be unreliable in bad weather. A new rail link between the airport and Beacon didn’t make the cut because of environmental impact and cost. And light rail or automated guideways between the airport and train stations lost out to more flexible and much cheaper buses.
That study nearly $4.67 million, and right now there, it seems as though there is no more cash in hand for further movement. The rail link, by the way, would probably cost upwards of $1 billion. Meanwhile, with Airtran out at Stewart, passenger volumes are poised to hit an all-time low and could sink lower. Talk about no return for an investment.
Right now, I’m not the only one who is no fan of this project. Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic examined the issue today and walked away with the same conclusions:
The airport is quite far away from the city’s population centers and will therefore have difficulty attracting crowds from the city; the airport’s current offerings of flights to just five destinations — Philadelphia, Atlanta, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, and Detroit — indicate that a serious increase in demand there from locals is unlikely over the next few years. Few commuters are going to be willing ride the 90 minute plus train between Penn Station and the airport, so why is this link a priority? It certainly doesn’t seem likely to cut down on air congestion.
Let’s imagine that the $1 billion existed to build this project, unlikely enough considering the MTA’s dismal fiscal situation. Wouldn’t it make more sense, from the perspective of improving transit, to spend it on desperately needed projects such as the Second Avenue Subway? People in Orange County — population 350,000 — may want more transit, but so do the roughly 350,000 people who live in East Harlem and the Upper East Side, and the latter group, to say the least, is far more likely to use public transportation than the former. Certainly, cheap express buses should be considered, but a rail link seems completely unnecessary.
That about says it all. I’m all in favor of bringing more mass transit to the upstate counties that are underserved by the state’s public transit options, but we should do so in a cost-efficient way. This airport rail link may have been a good idea a few decades ago, but right now, it’s time to scrap those plans.