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Feds Approve LaGuardia AirTrain Despite Objections From Local Leaders

The LaGuardia AirTrain has been approved by the FAA. (Courtesy of Port Authority)

July 20, 2021 By Allie Griffin

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the state’s $2 billion plan to build an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport Tuesday.

Its approval — which was previously delayed — paves the way for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to begin construction of the 1.5 mile rail line linking LaGuardia Airport to the 7 train and Long Island Rail Road at Willets Point.

The FAA approved the plan, first proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2015, despite opposition from many Queens residents and elected officials.

Several local lawmakers, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and State Sen. Jessica Ramos, have been critical of the project.

Ramos fired off a tweet this afternoon following the FAA’s approval.

This is a huge slap in the face by @NYGovCuomo to the residents of East Elmhurst,” Ramos said. “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.”

Ocasio-Cortez has been an outspoken critic of the project, often questioning the route the train will take. She says that the route is illogical — making riders from Manhattan travel past the airport to Willets Point to then backtrack to the airport.

Several critics 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 nearby residents. Others say that the project will lead to overcrowding on the 7 train.

However, Cuomo celebrated the approval.

“The new LaGuardia Airport—the first new airport in the United States in over 25 years and the front door to New York—deserves a reliable, efficient, and affordable transit connector worthy of its destination,” Cuomo said in a statement. “With the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval today of the LaGuardia AirTrain, that’s exactly what New Yorkers will get.”

The Queens Chamber of Commerce, which has long supported the AirTrain project, also applauded the FAA’s decision.

“The Queens Chamber of Commerce is delighted that the Federal Aviation Administration has approved The LaGuardia AirTrain, a project that will be a boon to Queens’ business community and our entire region,” said the Chamber President and CEO Tom Grech.

Early construction, such as utility work, for the AirTrain was expected to begin last month, but was delayed until the FAA issued a decision. The majority of the construction work is not slated to begin until April 2022.

The AirTrain, which the FAA has approved, will run along the route shown in map (Port Authority)

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Larry Penner

Neither Governor Cuomo, Port Authority Chairman Cotton, MTA Chairman Foye, LIRR President Eng and NYC Transit Interim President Feinberg has ever revealed what the additional operating costs would be to provide supporting LIRR & NYC Transit service. No one has identified the funding sources to pay for increasing frequency of service.

Only Governor Cuomo, the Port Authority, their consultants along with labor unions and construction contractors who would benefit by this project, refuse to acknowledge the reality that a thirty minute trip is fantasy.
In our new COVID-19 world, the anticipated ridership figures for the Air Train need to be updated.
In 2014, Cuomo said the cost was $450 million with a completion date of 2019. The Port Authority has budgeted $2.05 billion of funding within the $37 billion 2017 – 2026 Ten Year Capital Plan for the project with a completion date of 2025. Who will pay for the additional costs if the construction bids come in above the available funding? Who can guarantee the final cost and completion date?.
Extension of the NYC Transit N & W Astoria subway lines always made more sense. This would provide a direct one seat ride without having to change at Mets Willets Point.

(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office)

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