Plans for AirTrain to LaGuardia have been scrapped
Plans to build an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport are officially dead after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on Monday released the results of a 17-month-long analysis of mass transit options to the Queens airport. A panel of experts recommended the Port Authority abandon the proposed 1.5-mile elevated rail line and instead move forward with improving existing bus service and adding a new non-stop airport shuttle. Estimated costs for the bus options are just under $500 million, according to the report, compared to estimates of between $2.4 billion and $6.2 billion for light rail options.
Rendering courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office
Plans for the AirTrain and the overall renovation of LaGuardia Airport were introduced by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015. LaGuardia is the only major airport on the East Coast lacking a rail connection. At the time, the project was expected to cost roughly $450 million.
Roughly 87 percent of travelers arrive at the airport by personal vehicle, for-hire vehicle, rental car, or taxi; 6.2 percent arrive by public bus and 5.6 percent by private shuttles operated by hotels and third-party entities, according to the report.
Increased bus service and a new shuttle between the airport and subway stations could reduce the dependence on taxis and cars, according to the New York Times.
In its 450-page report, the panel concluded speeding up the Q70 bus and creating an all-electric shuttle service to the airport would cost $500 million and carry twice as many passengers as the AirTrain would have been able to hold. The Q70 bus is currently free for riders and is specifically designed to take passengers to and from the airport with luggage racks. It also runs faster on average than other city bus lines, clocking in at 12.81 miles per hour compared to the citywide average of 8.72 miles per hour.
To speed up the Q70, a variety of improvements would be made to the bus route that runs from Jackson Heights to Woodside, including transit signal property on Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway, a new mile-long exclusive bus lane, wayfinding, and lighting improvements.
The proposed shuttle service would run between the airport and the last stop on the N/W subway line at the Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard subway station. The new shuttle would service all three terminals at LaGuardia and utilize dedicated bus lanes with transit signal priority to speed up travel time.
While the panel expressed that a “one-seat ride via subway” would be the most effective way to help travelers get to the airport without a car, a project of that magnitude would require billions of dollars in funding and many years of construction.
The new bus and shuttle services would serve an estimated 3.5 million and 3 million riders per year, respectively, according to Streetsblog.
On Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement she accepted the recommendations of the report and urged the Port Authority to implement the changes.
“New Yorkers deserve world-class transportation to world-class airports. Shortly after taking office, I asked the Port Authority to thoroughly examine mass transit solutions for LaGuardia Airport that would reduce car traffic and increase connectivity, while meeting the demand of our customers,” Hochul said in an official statement.
“I am grateful to the expert panel, the technical consultants, and the Port Authority for providing a clear, cost-effective path forward with an emissions-free transit solution for customers. I accept the recommendations of this report, and I look forward to its immediate implementation by the Port Authority in close coordination with our partners at the MTA, in the City of New York and the federal government.”
The AirTrain would have connected the airport to the New York City subway system at Willets Point, where it would also link to the Long Island Rail Road.
In July 2021, AirTrain received federal approval, giving the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey the green light to go ahead with the construction of the elevated line. The decision came after months of delay due to criticism from community groups and elected officials. At this point, the price of the project had increased exponentially to approximately $2 billion.
The plan was halted in October 2021 by Hochul, who called for a review of potential alternatives to the project in response to continued opposition from the community and local officials. Critics of the AirTrain, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, questioned the logistics of the AirTrain’s construction and claimed it would negatively impact property values in the surrounding Queens neighborhoods.
Others called out its confusing route. Manhattan-bound arriving travelers would have to head away from the airport to go east, then double back on the 7 subway line or the Long Island Rail Road.
In March 2022, Port Authority released a set of 14 alternative options to the AirTrain, including two subway extensions, five light rail routes, five bus options, a ferry service, and options using “emerging technologies” like narrow tunnels with electric vehicles, fixed guideway autonomous shuttle vehicles, and personal rapid transit vehicles like pods.