LGA AirTrain: Gov. Hochul directs PANYNJ to examine alternative transit options

Oct. 5, 2021
Opponents to the rail connection to LaGuardia have become more vocal following the resignation of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The planned rail transit connection to LaGuardia Airport (LGA) has hit either a snag or a project stopping wall – depending on perspective - with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul directing the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to look into alternative transit connections to LGA.

“New Yorkers deserve world-class transportation to world-class airports. I have asked the Port Authority to thoroughly examine alternative mass transit solutions for reducing car traffic and increasing connectivity to LaGuardia Airport,” Gov. Hochul said in a prepared statement on Oct. 4. “We must ensure that our transportation projects are bold, visionary and serve the needs of New Yorkers. I remain committed to working expeditiously to rebuild our infrastructure for the 21st century and to create jobs - not just at LaGuardia, but at all of our airports and transit hubs across New York."

The $2-billion project would provide a rail transit connection to the final major U.S. airport on the East Coast without one. PANYNJ plans to connect LGA to the New York City Transit Subway 7 Line and the Long Island Rail Road Port Washington Branch at Mets-Willets Point. Additionally, there will also be passenger walkways connecting to the LGA Central Hall, a parking garage connector, public transportation and ground transportation facilities.

PANYNJ Executive Director Rick Cotton has been in contact with the governor’s office regarding the project. He addressed the topic during a press conference following PANYNJ’s Sept. 30 board meeting where he laid out the benefits of the project and committed to responding and engaging with Gov. Hochul.

The LaGuardia AirTrain has had a banner year so far. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement in March followed by a Record of Decision (ROD) in July. The ROD provided the clearance needed to pursue future funding under the Passenger Facility Charge Program, which collects fees from passenger tickets to fund qualifying airport projects.

In August, PANYNJ shortlisted four teams to bid on the LaGuardia AirTrain project; giving each team until April 2022 to develop and submit their bids.

But opposition to the project – centered among leaders in the borough of Queens – has grown following the resignation of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. On Sept. 30, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called dealing with the project under the Cuomo Administration “an aberrant situation.”

“I think there's some virtues to the project, but my question has always been, is there a better way, is there a way to give people a more direct ride to the airport that would be even more appealing and get more and more people to use mass transit? Let's do that assessment now. It doesn't have to take forever. Let's reassess it and figure out if there's a better way, let's go in that direction. If there is not, go with the original plan,” said Mayor de Blasio.

PANYNJ’s Cotton noted during the port authority’s own press conference that the project had undergone “exhaustive and independent review.” He pointed out several additional community benefits of the project, which included a route that avoids heavy construction and does not require the acquisition of private property. He said it would provide reliable and predictable travel times to the airport and be used by six to 10 million air travelers.

Economically, Cotton says the project will provide 3,000 construction jobs and has a commitment to award $500 million in contracts to minority and women owned businesses.

“I think the other point that needs to be made in terms of community benefits is that the Port Authority is a self-supporting organization,” explained Cotton. “…by virtue of [port authority] bylaws it is legally restricted to spending on port authority, transportation objectives and port authority facilities. We are enormously sympathetic to concerns that elected officials and community organizations have raised in terms of social service and social and community facilities. But our funding is focused on, by law, port authority facilities.”

He continued, “…we will be, as I say, discussing this in whatever detail, providing whatever review Governor Hochul desires.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.