Plan for better bus service to LaGuardia Airport rolls forward
The board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last week approved $30 million in funding to plan and design better bus service to LaGuardia, officially kicking off a project to improve mass transit options to the Queens airport. Recommended by an expert panel in March, the plan involves scrapping the controversial AirTrain and instead improving the existing bus service and adding a new non-stop airport shuttle.
“A vital part of building world-class airports is creating the modern and efficient public transportation that will get passengers and the public to our new facilities,” Kevin O’Toole, chair of the Port Authority, said in a statement. “That’s why the Port Authority is continuing to make major investments in mass transit improvements to LaGuardia, Newark Liberty and JFK International airports. The finest airports in the world deserve quality mass transit options.”
The Port Authority’s plan includes improving the MTA’s existing Q70 LaGuardia Link bus connecting Jackson Heights to Woodside. The Q70 will be given transit signal priority on Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway to reduce travel time and a new mile-long bus lane will be built on the shoulder of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway between Northern and Astoria Boulevards to improve service reliability between Jackson Heights and LaGuardia.
Additionally, a new designated pick-up and drop-off area for the buses will be constructed near Terminal C with exclusive road access to prevent congestion in the airport’s front roadways. Wayfinding and lighting improvements will be installed at the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street and 61st Street-Woodside subway stations, as well as branding and signage to promote the new service.
The plan also includes a new non-stop shuttle between the airport and the Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard subway station, the last stop on the N/W line. The new shuttle, which will serve all three airport terminals, includes the use of fully electric buses, dedicated bus lanes, transit signal priority to improve travel time, and improved ADA-accessible facilities at the Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard station like new elevators.
Current estimates put the bus service improvements at under $500 million, compared to between $2.4 billion and $6.2 billion for light rail options. The improved bus service is expected to carry roughly five million total passengers annually.
According to Gothamist, the Port Authority estimates the Q70 route upgrades will take two to three years to complete and the new bus route will take up to five years to build.
First announced by Gov. Cuomo in 2015, the proposed AirTrain project was a 1.5-mile elevated rail line that would run between LaGuardia and the eastern Queens neighborhood of Willets Point, with a connection to the subway and Long Island Rail Road. Initially expected to cost roughly $450 million, the project’s estimated cost grew to over $2 billion.
In October 2021, Hochul halted the project and called for a review of alternatives to the AirTrain.
In March, the Port Authority released 14 mass transit options as alternatives to the proposed AirTrain, including two subway extensions, five light rail routes, five bus options, a ferry service, and options utilizing “emerging technologies” like narrow tunnels with electric vehicles, fixed guideway autonomous vehicles, and personal rapid transit vehicles like pods.
Initially, the panel endorsed a “one-seat ride via subway” plan as the most effective way to improve mass-transit travel to the airport, but due to the costs and complexities of building a subway extension, the group decided the best near-term plan was improving bus service and creating a new shuttle route.