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LaGuardia AirTrain Set to be World’s Most Expensive Transit Project: Report

The proposed LaGuardia AirTrain. (Courtesy of Port Authority

Sept. 10, 2021 By Allie Griffin

The LaGuardia AirTrain project is likely to be the world’s most expensive transit project per rider in history, according to a new report.

The $2.1 billion project — a 1.5 mile rail line linking LaGuardia Airport to the 7 train and Long Island Rail Road at Willets Point — could cost the most per new rider of any public transit development in history, according to an analysis by the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany.

The report undermines the economics of the proposed AirTrain LGA — which some say was a pet project of disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo. It follows pushback from community members and elected officials who say its route is illogical — making riders from Manhattan travel past the airport to Willets Point to then backtrack to the airport.

The AirTrain project would serve only 6,000 new riders each day, according to Reinvent Albany’s estimates outlined in the report. With the project set to cost $2.1 billion that equates to a whopping $346,000 per new daily rider.

That figure is nearly twice as much as the Second Avenue subway project, according to the report, which was the most costly transit project ever built at $180,500 per new daily rider.

The AirTrain will run along the route shown in map (Port Authority)

The report states that the Port Authority, the agency spearheading the project, has overestimated the expected ridership of the AirTrain.

The Port Authority estimates that the AirTrain will serve 13,117 daily riders — a combination of air passengers and airport employees.

However, the report authors argue that more than 3,500 of those daily riders will drive to the AirTrain station at Willets Point and park—or be dropped off—as part of the commute.

The authors note that since these riders will still be using cars the AirTrain won’t achieve its goal of getting vehicles off the road.

“A large part of what the LGA Airtrain does is provide an extremely expensive shuttle service for airport employees parking their cars…and taxi drop-offs [at Willets Point],” the report reads. “Accordingly, we think the Port Authority’s claim that the AirTrain is climate friendly is completely bizarre.”

The report also notes that many of the estimated 13,117 daily riders already take public transportation to the airport. The report puts this figure at approximately 3,600.

Reinvent Albany and other critics of the proposed LaGuardia AirTrain hope that Gov. Kathy Hochul will scrap her predecessor’s plan. Hochul has not made any public statements about the plan since taking office.

The Port Authority didn’t respond to a request for comment, but told the New York Post that the report’s numbers were “breathtakingly wrong.”

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Larry Penner

Serious questions have been raised by some Port Authority staff concerning undue pressure exerted on them by the previous Cuomo administration in the development of the environmental NEPA document for Federal Aviation Administration approval necessary to advance the $2.05 billion LaGuardia Air Train. Many have questions as to the viability and value of this investment. In our new COVID-19 world, airlines, the Port Authority, NYC Transit subway and bus, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads all have to reevaluate anticipated future ridership growth projections. Anticipated ridership figures for the LaGuardia Air Train needs to be updated. Will there really be 9,000 daily riders? Will any independent cost benefit analysis justify investing $2.05 billion for this project? Potential construction contractor teams have to submit their bids by April 2022. The Port Authority selection committee is slated to review them and render a decision by summer 2022. If a bid is awarded, assuming the winners mobilize materials and work forces by the fall of 2022, how many years will they need to complete construction? Governor Kathy Hochul has time revisit this issue before the Port Authority moves forward with award of construction contract. Lets see if she will be a profile in courage before the train leaves the station.

(Larry Penner — transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions of dollars in grants which provided funding for capital projects and programs to the NY MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads and over 30 transit agencies in NY & NJ).

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