Plans to build an AirTrain to La Guardia are officially scrapped

There will be no AirTrain to La Guardia Airport.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has abandoned plans to build a light rail link to La Guardia after a review found the project’s cost had risen to $2.4 billion, more than five times original estimates.

When Ms. Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew M. Cuomo, first announced the pet project in 2015, he put the cost at $450 million. After Mr. Cuomo resigned from grace in 2021, the plan faced growing opposition from elected officials and community groups. Ms. Hochul stopped the project and ordered the review a few months after taking office.

In releasing the results of the assessment Monday, a panel of transportation experts recommends the lower-cost option of increasing public bus service to La Guardia and adding a shuttle between the airport and north Queens subway stations to reduce reliance on air travelers to reduce to taxis and private cars.

“I accept the recommendations of this report and look forward to its immediate implementation by the Port Authority in close coordination with our partners in the MTA, the city and the federal government,” Ms. Hochul said in a statement Monday.

The addition of an AirTrain, similar to one that has served Kennedy International Airport for nearly 20 years, should provide the finishing touch to an $8 billion renovation of La Guardia. The two huge terminals that opened as part of the airport’s overhaul in recent years were designed to contain AirTrain stations.

Mr. Cuomo and his allies often complained that La Guardia was the only major airport on the East Coast without a rail link. Even Ms. Hochul, as lieutenant governor in 2018, said an AirTrain would provide “easy access and travel for people in Manhattan and Long Island.”

The agency that operates La Guardia, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had received expedited federal approval for its plan to build the AirTrain between La Guardia and Willets Point, where it will connect with the #7 subway line and the 7 subway line could have been connected to the Long Island Railroad. Port Authority officials initially promised the connection could get travelers from midtown Manhattan to the airport in less than 30 minutes.

Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group, and two community organizations in Queens, sued the Port Authority and Federal Aviation Administration in 2021 to block the AirTrain project, arguing that it would take parkland along Flushing Bay away from the historically black neighborhood of East Elmhurst.

The rising cost of building the project is one of the reasons the Port Authority backed the panel’s recommendation to abandon it, said Rick Cotton, the agency’s executive director.

“If you bring in outside experts to make recommendations, you should accept their recommendations,” Mr. Cotton said in an interview. He said he would present the panel’s recommendation to the Port Authority’s board of directors within three months.

The three members of the panel — Janette Sadik-Khan, Mike Brown and Phillip A. Washington — said in a statement that instead of building an AirTrain or extending a subway line to the airport, they unanimously recommend the Port Authority and the Transportation Authority should upgrade the existing Q70 bus service to the airport and add a dedicated shuttle between La Guardia and the last stop of the N/W subway line in Astoria.

The panel agreed that extending the subway to accommodate a “single-seater ride” from Midtown was “the optimal way to achieve the best mass transit connection.” However, they added that the engineers who evaluated the options could not find a viable way to build a subway extension to the cramped airport, which is fenced off by Grand Central Parkway and the East River.

Even if a way could be found to lengthen the subway that doesn’t disrupt flight operations at La Guardia, the analysis said construction would take at least 12 years and cost up to $7 billion.

Improving and speeding up the Q70 bus and creating an all-electric shuttle service would cost a fraction of that amount, just about $500 million, said Ms. Sadik-Khan, former New York City Transportation Commissioner. She said the bus service would carry almost twice as many passengers annually as the Willets Point AirTrain had projected.

Among the criticisms of this AirTrain plan was its indirect route. Arriving passengers to Manhattan would have had to travel in the opposite direction to catch a subway or LIRR train at Willets Point. The Port Authority chose this route along the avenue to minimize the need for private property acquisition. Community groups were also concerned about the impact on property values ​​in neighborhoods near La Guardia in north Queens.

“Steering the ship of state away from the rocky shoals of Willets Point is no small feat,” said Ms. Sadik-Khan, a director at Bloomberg Associates. “Saving $1.5 billion while moving almost twice as many drivers quickly and efficiently is pretty good.”

She was joined by Mr. Brown, former commissioner of Transport for London, and Mr. Washington, former chief executive of the Los Angeles Metro.

Thomas K. Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, a transportation research group, commended the Port Authority for conducting a “transparent” process to review the alternatives. “No one should think that there is a solution,” he said.

But Mr. Wright added that the chosen solution would have only a modest effect on the decades-old problem of beating New York City’s airport traffic.

“Improved bus service is not a game changer,” Mr. Wright said. “The majority of people flying in and out of LaGuardia will continue to use private cars and taxis,” he said.

Mr Cotton, who is serving at the behest of Ms Hochul, said he has accepted that “circumstances have changed” since championing the AirTrain in the face of opposition from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other officials representing Queens have. The agency could divert the rest of the money it would have spent on the AirTrain to other planned projects, he said.

A spokesman for the Transportation Authority, John J. McCarthy, said in a statement that the agency looks forward to continuing to work with the Port Authority “as it launches its new direct airport shuttle service” and would work cooperatively on improvements to the port Q70 service recommended by the panel. Plans to build an AirTrain to La Guardia are officially scrapped

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