Cuomo’s $2.1B LaGuardia AirTrain project is halted

October 13, 2021

Rendering courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced Tuesday that it would be putting the brakes on any further development of the AirTrain, the proposed 1.5-mile elevated rail that 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 project was a top priority for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. His successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, has called for a review of alternatives to the project in response to opposition by community groups and local officials who have criticized its environmental review process, its impact on the surrounding community, and a dearth of alternatives being discussed.

As 6sqft previously reported, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the AirTrain project in July, giving the Port Authority the green light to proceed with the plan, which Gov. Cuomo first announced in 2015 along with plans for a massive overhaul of LaGuardia Airport. At the time, officials estimated the AirTrain would cost $450 million; the price tag has since grown to an estimated $2.1 billion.

Opponents of the AirTrain, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Sen. Jessica Ramos, and environmental organization Riverkeeper, have expressed escalating concerns about the review process and the logistics of building the AirTrain. One complaint called its somewhat circuitous route inconvenient for the riders it was intended to serve and another said it would negatively affect property values in surrounding northern Queens neighborhoods.

Queens-based community groups and Riverkeeper sued to stop the project, alleging that alternative plans were not given enough consideration by the F.A.A.

“At Governor Hochul’s request, the Port Authority is undertaking a thorough review of potential alternative mass transit options to La Guardia Airport,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday. “The agency will work in close consultation with independent experts and stakeholders, and will complete its work as expeditiously as possible, consistent with the need for the review to be thorough and rigorous.”

Prior to his abrupt resignation this summer, the airport’s thorough remodel was among Cuomo’s most talked-about projects. According to Cuomo and the rail link’s supporters, 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 arriving there by car.

After Cuomo’s departure, the call to rethink the AirTrain plan–or nix it all together–became louder. Among the top complaints was its somewhat confusing route: Manhattan-bound arriving travelers would have to head away from the airport to the east, then double back on the 7 subway line or the Long Island Rail Road. Detractors also pointed to the project’s escalating costs which would put the project among the world’s most expensive rail lines.

In addition to a subway extension which would have to be constructed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, alternate transit ideas include express bus service, ferry services–and a more direct AirTrain route.

Last week, Hochul asked for a review of alternative transit solutions that would provide better access to the airport and minimize car traffic. “New Yorkers deserve world-class transportation to world-class airports. I have asked the Port Authority to thoroughly examine alternative mass transit solutions for reducing car traffic and increasing connectivity to LaGuardia Airport,” the governor said in a statement earlier this month.

“We must ensure that our transportation projects are bold, visionary, and serve the needs of New Yorkers. I remain committed to working expeditiously to rebuild our infrastructure for the 21st century and to create jobs–not just at LaGuardia, but at all of our airports and transit hubs across New York.”

[Via New York Times]


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