Every few months, the plan for a one-seat Metro-North ride from Manhattan to the Stewart International Airport in Newburgh rears its ugly head. At the end of last week, the MTA, at the behest of Senator Chuck Schumer, committed $2.7 million to study a possible Stewart Airport rail link. The Port Authority will contribute the same amount to the study.
While some commenters here in August noted that the Port Authority, operators of the airport, would be paying for the rail connection, that the MTA is now doling out money just to study the issue is a bad sign. Meanwhile, in my opinion, the region’s transportation agencies and the state’s political leaders are approaching the airport and its potential passengers through the wrong lens.
The Poughkeepsie Journal reported on the upcoming jointly-funded $5.4-million study:
Schumer said funding has been slow in coming but that the MTA’s allocation of the remaining $2.7 million needed to jump-start the study avoids the need to wait for a federal appropriation from the 2009 fiscal year. Instead of waiting until 2009, he said, the study can begin in the next few months…
“This is the moment when talk turns to action,” Schumer told a group gathered at the airport. He estimated the alternative study and the following environmental impact study would be done by late 2010. “It means the project can begin this summer,” Schumer said. “It’s also going to help us bring more air service.”
Peter Cannito, president of Metro-North railroad, said the study is broader than just rail access to Stewart Airport. He said the study, called the West of Hudson Regional Transit Access Study, will include upgrades to the Port Jervis line that runs through Orange and Rockland Counties to reduce the travel time into New York City.
This study will also include looking at all means of getting to and from Stewart, including ferries and buses to Beacon’s Metro-North station.
I’m all in favor of extending commuter rail service into parts of the state that don’t have it but only if the areas could really use it. I’m not at all in favor of spending billions of dollars to build a one-seat ride to Stewart Airport at the expense of other, more vital projects that would have a more immediate impact on the Metropolitan Area.
As I wrote in September, the idea of a one-seat ride from Manhattan to Stewart is simply misguided. “It right now takes an hour and a half on Metro-North/NJ Transit to reach the Salisbury Mills stop from Penn Station,” I wrote. “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.”
But that’s not to say that an expansion of service at Stewart would not be useful. Rather, the Port Authority should figure out how to make Stewart transit-accessible so that it siphons Westchester and Northern New Jersey travelers away from the city’s three major airports. If the Port Authority can beef up Stewart service so that travelers north and west of the city avoid the endless commutes to JFK, LaGuardia or Newark Liberty Airports, Schumer could realize his goals of cutting down air traffic congestion from those three airports while providing travelers with a viable alternate airport.
In the end, the $2.7 million are relatively small beans for the MTA. But what if the study recommends a Metro-North line to the airport. While I’m sure the Port Authority and state will elect to bear some of the costs, as we’ve seen with the 7 line extension, “some” never equates to “all,” and the MTA is bound to be at least partially on the hook for a project that simply isn’t worth it.