Stewart Airport

Bob Baird of The Journal News talks about the possibility of making Stewart Airport a “fourth major airport” for the New York metropolitan region (“A fourth major airport?,” October 5, 2006). He also talks about ancillary mass transit potential:

Even back in the Quonset hut days, there was talk of a direct rail connection to help attract some of the Rockland, Bergen and even Westchester travelers away from the other jetports and make Stewart a more attractive departure point for them.

For a long time, those who support restoration of passenger service on the old West Shore rail line argued that it could eventually make a connection to Stewart — perhaps even a high-speed connection.

But now, with mass transit virtually assured to be a component of a new Tappan Zee Bridge project, it may be commuter rail across the Hudson that provides that connection.

Just this week, Al Samuels, president of the Rockland Business Association and Nyack architect Jan Degenshein visited the newspaper to make a case for two-way commuter rail as the favored mass transit option. Both say that the ability of New York City residents to reach employment in Rockland is just as important — maybe more so — than providing a one-seat ride to Manhattan for Rockland residents.

Having that reverse commute option, they argue, would bring in the work force that’s needed to fuel the next round of economic development here. It would fill a staffing need expressed by companies that would like to relocate to Rockland and for those that consider leaving because they can’t find the help they need.

But both business leaders also see commuter rail across the Tappan Zee possibly providing a more direct rail link to Stewart than is available now.

At the AirTran announcement Tuesday, Vanderhoef called Stewart the “linchpin” for the future of the Hudson Valley. If that’s true, from this vantage point, that would make frequent, quick and dependable rail service essential. Such a “train to the plane” could make Stewart the airport of choice for Rockland, Bergen, Westchester and even parts of New York City.

The old chicken-and-egg question remains. Will it be Stewart’s need that generates support for the rail line or will it be rail access that prompts the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to designate Stewart as New York’s fourth major airport?

No one can crystal-ball that one as yet. But with Orange and Sullivan counties growing rapidly and the three other airports projected to max out their capacity in about 15 years, the future of Stewart will have to come into focus soon.

Perhaps as much as the decision on a Tappan Zee Bridge mass transit option, Rockland’s future — in terms of transportation options, economic development and land use — may hinge on decisions related to Stewart that have been a quarter-century in coming.

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