Oct. 5, 2021 By Allie Griffin
Several Queens lawmakers want Gov. Kathy Hochul to kill the controversial LaGuardia AirTrain project altogether after she announced Monday that she has directed the Port Authority to review other options.
The lawmakers want Hochul to officially slam the lid on the $2 billion plan to build a 1.5-mile rail line from Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport — a proposal, and so-called “pet project”, of disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
“New Yorkers deserve world-class transportation to world-class airports,” Hochul said in a statement Monday. “I have asked the Port Authority to thoroughly examine alternative mass transit solutions for reducing car traffic and increasing connectivity to LaGuardia Airport.”
Lawmakers, however, want her to clarify if this means she will take the AirTrain plan off the table completely.
“This is great movement in the right direction,” State Sen. Jessica Ramos said on Twitter. “The next step is to define with more clarity what this means in practice.”
Hochul released the statement just hours ahead of a planned press conference during which several legislators denounced the AirTrain plan, which has faced continuous criticism since Cuomo announced it in 2015.
State Senators Ramos, Michael Gianaris, Leroy Comrie, John Liu, Toby Ann Stavisky, along with Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas and a representative from the Queens Borough President Office joined local community groups to call for an immediate withdrawal of the AirTrain plans.
Ramos and Stavisky both called the AirTrain project a “boondoggle” and González-Rojas said it is a “$2 billion vanity project”.
“A review of the LGA #AirTrain project isn’t enough, we need a full halt,” Ramos said. “The $2B can better serve our community by updating our infrastructure and by creating a transportation system that actually serves our neighbors increasing their access to public transit.”
Many New Yorkers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have called the AirTrain route illogical because it would make riders from Manhattan travel past the airport to Willets Point to then backtrack to the airport. The Willets Point station would connect the 7 train and Long Island Railroad with the LaGuardia AirTrain.
Gianaris said it’s not the best option for getting people to and from the airport and added that its price tag has continuously swollen.
“The proposed LGA AirTrain is four times over-budget and not the best option for increasing airport access,” Gianaris said. “We need a community-centered plan that gets people out of cars, on to mass transit, and to and from LGA faster. Reliable transit is possible — but this plan is NOT it.”
Several critics of the plan are also concerned about the environmental impact it will have on the nearby Flushing Bay and say that it will reduce the quality of life for residents who live close by.
González-Rojas expressed some of these same concerns.
“The environmental and economic costs of the AirTrain project are too high and have had no transparency,” González-Rojas said. “Our communities are better served seeing this kind of investment improving our transit system and meeting other needs. @GovKathyHochul the plan should be halted.”
Community groups, environmental activists, watchdogs and transportation advocates also joined the press conference to call on Hochul to halt the plans.
Watchdog group Reinvent Albany, A Sensible Way to LGA Coalition, Riverkeeper, Guardians of Flushing Bay, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Riders Alliance all participated in the press conference.
The project, however, does have some longtime supporters such as the Queens Chamber of Commerce and Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry.
“To do nothing by blocking LaGuardia AirTrain, as some of my colleagues in elected office now want, means that we will have no opportunity for success and more and more cars on the roads and in and out of our community for generations to come,” Aubry told the New York Post.
The obvious solution to the air train is to have it connect the Astoria Blvd N/W stop to LGA. The train could run in the middle of the the Grand Central Parkway. 2 or 3 subway stops could be added to serve Astoria Heights and East Elmhurst.
David defeated Goliath (Cuomo and all his Pay to Play Special Interest People such as consultants construction contractors and unions who sent him campaign contributions hoping for a piece of the $2 billion action) won. Since Cuomo failed to deliver, will they now ask Cuomo for refunds from his $18 million campaign reelection fund that he no longer needs, The best alternative for the LaGuardia Air Train still remains extending the N & W subway lines. Other options include (1) asking the New York City Economic Development Corporation to extend one of the private ferry operator routes that stop in Astoria, Hunters Point, Long Island City, East 34th Street and Pier 11 in the Financial District to connect with the Airport, (2) have NYC Transit Bus introduce Select Bus Service or a closed door one stop connection from Flushing to LaGuardia Airport Q48 bus and (3) ask the City of Glen Cove to add an interim stop to serve LaGuardia Airport on their future route to Pier 11 in the Financial District anticipated to start service some time in 2022. Airport Passenger Fees might be a potential funding source to pay for a portion of any direct subway extension to LaGuardia Airport. Check out the link to Federal Aviation Administration https://www.faa.gov/airports/pfc/pfc_updates/media/pfc_75_21_rail_access_policy.pdf. There is also the Federal Transit Administration national competitive New Starts program.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)..
It’s about time they took another look at this. Extending the N / W line to LaGuardia would be the smartest move, and then use the money they saved to connect LaGuardia to JFK via Air Train.