By Vanni Gibertini
LaGuardia AirTrain Project Paused, Panel To Evaluate Alternatives
The relationship between the New York area residents and LaGuardia Airport has always been one of love and hate. On one side it is the most convenient airport to people and businesses based in Manhattan — especially Midtown and the Upper East Side — as it is located only eight miles from the heart of the Big Apple. But on the other hand, travelers have always considered LaGuardia a sub-par airport with its crowded spaces, low ceiling and shabby décor.
The ongoing $8 billion redevelopment that commenced in 2015 and is still ongoing has transformed the look of the terminal buildings improving traveler’s satisfaction and making it look like the world-class airport it has the ambition to be.
The redevelopment also includes the creation of a public transport solution that would allow the airport to be linked to the City in a manner that would allow passengers to bypass the heavy traffic usually plaguing its access roads. In 2019 the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the entity operating the airport, approved a $2.05 billion financing for the AirTrain, a monorail similar to those in operation both at JFK and Newark, which would connect the Terminals to the Subway and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) at Willets Point, right behind the CitiField baseball stadium.
However, the newly-elected Governor of New York Kathy Hochul decided last month to pause the project in order to evaluate possible alternatives to the AirTrain. “The [Port Authority] will work in close consultation with independent experts and stakeholders, and will complete its work as expeditiously as possible, consistent with the need for the review to be thorough and rigorous,” the administration said in a statement.
The decision to go ahead with the AirTrain option had been largely controversial in New York at the time, as opposers claimed a one-seat transport option was to be preferred to a solution that would require travelers to connect either with the Subway or with a train in order to reach Manhattan. Furthermore, the proposed 2.3-mile AirTrain would have traveled southeast from the airport in order to reach Willets Point, therefore heading further away from Manhattan and increasing the distance to be covered by passengers.
Last week the Port Authority announced the creation of a blue-ribbon panel that would look into various alternatives, NBC New York reports. These options would include
• Improved and expanded bus service, including dedicated lanes
• Ferry service
• One-system rides, including the extension of existing subway lines
• Elevated guideway options from existing LIRR and subway stops
• Other technologies “that can be implemented in the near-term”
The panel would include representatives from the New York City Transport commission, the New York Metro and Transportation Agency (MTA) and external consultants from Denver Airport, the City of Los Angeles, and Heathrow Airport in London.
The process will be completed “as expeditiously as possible”, according to the Port Authority.
The extension of existing N or W subway lines, which has been suggested by critics of the now-paused AirTrain project, would be more challenging since at least the final section before the airport station would have to run underground, increasing the estimated costs to at least $2.5 billion in the best-case scenario.
If an alternative to the existing AirTrain project is selected by the panel, a new environmental impact assessment would have to be performed and this is likely to delay the start of construction for up to 18 months.