Cuomo’s $2.1B AirTrain to LaGuardia gets federal approval

July 21, 2021

Rendering courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey can move forward with its proposal to build a $2.1 billion AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration announced on Tuesday. The 1.5-mile elevated rail would run between the airport and the eastern Queens neighborhood of Willets Point, with a connection to the subway and Long Island Rail Road. The agency’s final decision was delayed last month after community groups and elected officials raised concerns about the review process and the logistics of building the AirTrain.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo first announced plans for a massive overhaul of LaGuardia Airport, including the AirTrain, in 2015. At that time, officials estimated the AirTrain would cost just $450 million. The price tag has since ballooned to over $2 billion, with the total renovation of the airport priced at over $8 billion.

According to Cuomo and supporters of the rail link, the AirTrain could take passengers from Midtown to LaGuardia in about 30 minutes. LaGuardia is the only major airport on the East Coast without a rail connection, with 86 percent of its travelers using cars to get there.

“This is the culmination of years of advocacy by this administration and a key moment in our efforts to rebuild New York’s infrastructure for the future,” Cuomo said in a statement on Tuesday.

“As we come out of the COVID crisis, our state and our country have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in a resilient, transformative, and interconnected future and today’s announcement is a testament to our ‘all aboard’ commitment to seizing it, in partnership with the Biden administration and Secretary Buttigieg.”

Rendering of Willets Point Station courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Opponents of the AirTrain, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Sen. Jessica Ramos, and environmental organization Riverkeeper, raised concerns about the project’s environmental review process and the lack of alternative options on the table.

Critics also say the proposed route of the AirTrain is “backward,” because it takes commuters past LaGuardia before turning around via AirTrain to the airport. There is also concern that construction could be a headache for the local neighborhood and also affect the environment surrounding Flushing Bay.

“This is a huge slap in the face by @NYGOVCuomo to the residents of East Elmhurst,” Ramos said in a tweet on Tuesday. “COVID has already taken a devastating toll on our neighbors. The last thing we need is a multi-billion dollar vanity project that will further affect the health & well-being of our communities.”

Earlier this year, the Port Authority issued a request for proposals to design, construct, and maintain the AirTrain. The agency expects to select a proposal by the middle of next year, with the project scheduled to wrap up in 2025.

According to the Port Authority, the AirTrain project will deliver more than $500 million in contracts for minority and women-owned and Queens-based businesses and create 3,000 union construction jobs.

“Today’s Record of Decision from the Federal Aviation Administration approving the LaGuardia AirTrain clears the way to provide a reliable, predictable and non-polluting rail link to LaGuardia Airport,” Rick Cotton, director of the Port Authority, said in a statement.

“LaGuardia Airport is the only major airport on the East Coast without a rail mass transit link, and it is way past time for that embarrassment to end.”

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