After years of discussions, a new—and controversial—$2.1 billion AirTrain will be built, connecting LaGuardia Airport with the LIRR and 7 train stations at Mets-Willets Point in eastern Queens.
The Federal Aviation Association approved the plan on Tuesday, giving the Port Authority permission to “proceed with its proposal to construct a rail system to provide a reliable transit option for air travelers and employees at LGA.” The FAA also noted it held two virtual public workshops and three virtual public hearings last September, and that 18 “different federal, state and local agencies have provided input throughout the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process based on their expertise and authorities.” (You can see the Final EIS here.)
Governor Andrew Cuomo called the plan a “reliable, efficient, and affordable transit connector worthy of its destination.” He noted that years of work has led to this moment and that now, “as we come out of the COVID crisis, our state and our country have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in a resilient, transformative, and interconnected future, and today’s announcement is a testament to our ‘all aboard’ commitment to seizing it, in partnership with the Biden administration and Secretary Buttigieg.”
While a mass transit option to LaGuardia has long been a goal, critics questioned Cuomo’s particular plan because it actually takes travelers past the airport. In 2015, The Transport Politic created a map showing the routes of various connector plans and suggested that travel times actually increased with this plan.
The advocacy group Riverkeeper obtained FAA documents that included communications between the federal agency and Port Authority. The NY Post reported earlier this year that, in one exchange, FAA officials found, “A 36-minute door-to-door car ride may actually be quick[er] than 28 minute train ride when the time to travel from the door to the station platform is factored in.”
Riverkeeper has claimed, “Port Authority embellished the purported benefit of the AirTrain; cherry-picked its selection criteria; unevenly applied those selection criteria among the alternatives; and excluded viable and desired ferry service from meaningful consideration”
The group also says that the AirTrain route over the World’s Fair Promenade in East Elmhurst would “affect nearby homes, obscuring their views of the bay, causing vibrations, and increasing noise and air pollution that airport neighbors have already shouldered for decades.”
Local lawmakers are also unhappy:
This is a huge slap in the face by @NYGovCuomo to the residents of East Elmhurst. COVID has already taken a devastating toll on our neighbors. The last thing we need is a multi-billion dollar vanity project that will further affect the health & well-being of our communities. https://t.co/GhyswTjl5j
— Jessica Ramos (@jessicaramos) July 20, 2021
The Port Authority has maintained that this circuitous AirTrain route impacts residential areas the least, and said in a statement on Tuesday, “LaGuardia Airport is the only major airport on the East Coast without a rail mass transit link, and it is way past time for that embarrassment to end.”
The agency also said that as they begin this construction this summer, they will offer “regular engagement opportunities for local residents… to ensure transparency and accountability.”