Port Authority kills ‘backwards’ AirTrain to LGA

The Port Authority on Monday officially killed its plans to build a “backwards” AirTrain linking LaGuardia Airport to Willets Point, instead opting to spend $500 million on improved bus service from the airport to nearby subway stations.

The move comes more than a year after Gov. Kathy Hochul announced she would review the original proposal — which was a pet project of disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo — amid widespread opposition from affected Queens neighborhoods and transit activists.

“New Yorkers deserve world-class transportation to world-class airports,” Hochul said in a statement, which hailed the new plan as “a clear, cost-effective path forward with an emissions-free transit solution for customers.

“I look forward to its immediate implementation by the Port Authority,” she added.

The agency, which is jointly controlled by Hochul and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, still must rubber-stamp the move later this year, but Albany’s blessing ensures the sign-off is a fait accompli.

Two Delta Airlines employees walk through a gate area of the newly completed 1.3 million-square foot $4 billion Delta Airlines Terminal C at LaGuardia Airport in 2022.
Two Delta Airlines employees walk through a gate area of the newly completed Terminal C at LaGuardia Airport in 2022.

Officials have sought to improve transit links to the airport for years, efforts that gained new urgency as the Port Authority spent billions of dollars to replace LaGuardia’s decrepit old facilities with two gleaming new terminals.

The 450-plus page report released Monday in support of the new plan calls for dramatic improvements to existing Q70 bus service, including the creation of a dedicated lane on the shoulder of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to keep the buses out of traffic.

Disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $2.1 billion pet project to build an âAirTrainâ between LaGuardia Airport and eastern Queens is set to be the most expensive project per-rider in history, according to a new report.
The Port Authority opted to kill its plans of building an AirTrain out of LaGuardia Airport.
A Whole New LGA

The Q70 would also receive priority along the corridor and dedicated space in front of Terminal C — predominately used by Delta Air Lines — to avoid loading-zone congestion.

Additionally, the experts hired by the Port Authority to craft the plan recommended the creation of a second high-frequency bus line to serve the airport from the Ditmars Boulevard Station at the end of the subway system’s elevated Astoria line.

The new service would run non-stop between Ditmars and the airport’s three terminals.

This new proposal would also fund major renovations at the elevated station, including the installation of elevators and escalators to make it accessible for the handicapped.

New Yorkers queue to board a NYC Transit bus in Flushing, New York.
The government instead plans on improving the bus service from the airport to nearby subway stations.
Alamy Stock Photo

By comparison, Cuomo’s proposed AirTrain was dubbed “backwards” because riders would have had to take a train that went past LaGuardia Airport to Willets Point, only to then have to double-back to get to the airport.

The report also revealed that the price tag for the “backwards” AirTrain would likely reach $2.4 billion, nearly quintuple the half-billion-dollar estimate initially made by Cuomo.

In coming up with alternatives, “We were unanimous in our preference for a one-seat ride, which was only possible through a subway extension,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, who served as the city’s transportation commissioner under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and helped lead the review. “However, our analysis showed that the extension was really, really risky.”

Tunneling would have presented major headaches, the team found.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul addresses the media during a press conference in response to the Signature Bank's closure in New York, Monday, March. 13, 2023.
Gov. Kathy Hochul originally announced she would review the plan, which was a pet project of her predecessor.
AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura

Firstly, federal regulations require that any line be tunneled as it approaches LaGuardia’s southern runways, even if the trains, wires and other equipment could fit in the space currently set aside for the Grand Central Expressway.

Secondly, the tunnel would potentially have to be 200 feet deep to avoid running into airport utilities and the massive century-old sewage lines that feed the Bowery Bay water treatment plant, which sits near the airport.

“The engineering and construction firms couldn’t even confirm that [the tunnel] could be built,” she said.

A map of the proposed route for the 'backward' AirTrain, which would have required New Yorkers to catch a train and ride it all the way to Willets Point before doubling back to go to LaGuardia.
The “backward” AirTrain would’ve required New Yorkers to catch a train to Willets Point before doubling back to go to LaGuardia.

Good-government groups and transit advocates celebrated the decision.

“It’s so refreshing to see government leaders admit a mistake and change course before it’s too late,” said Danny Pearlstein, the top spokesman at Riders Alliance. “The backwards boondoggle AirTrain belongs just where it landed, on the scrapheap of history.”

The group Sensible Ways to LGA Coalition added in a statement, “We appreciate and support the Port Authority and its expert panel advancing airport transit improvements with a high ridership bang for the buck that will be quick to implement.”