Oct. 13, 2021 By Allie Griffin
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is putting the the controversial LaGuardia AirTrain project on hold.
The agency announced Tuesday that it will pause its $2 billion plan to build a 1.5-mile rail line from Willets Point to LaGuardia Airport at the direction of Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“At Governor Hochul’s request, the Port Authority is undertaking a thorough review of potential alternative mass transit options to LaGuardia Airport…,” the Port Authority said in a statement. “During the review, the Port Authority will pause further action with respect to the LaGuardia AirTrain project.”
Hochul asked the agency last week to “thoroughly examine” other transit options to get riders to and from LaGuardia Airport — just hours ahead of a press conference during which several legislators denounced the AirTrain plan.
State Senators Ramos, Michael Gianaris, Leroy Comrie, John Liu, Toby Ann Stavisky, along with Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas and a representative from the Queens Borough President Office joined community groups to call for an immediate and total withdrawal of the AirTrain plans at the press conference.
The plan — to connect the 7 train and Long Island Railroad to the AirTrain at Willets Point — has faced continuous criticism since Cuomo announced it in 2015.
Many New Yorkers have argued that the AirTrain route is illogical because it would make riders from Manhattan travel past the airport to Willets Point to then backtrack to the airport.
Local residents and environmental advocates have also expressed concern about the plan’s impact on the nearby Flushing Bay and argue that it will not significantly reduce car traffic to and from the airport. East Elmhurst residents worry the project will reduce their quality of life and lead to overcrowding on the 7 train as well.
Others have criticized the project’s swollen $2 billion price tag as the plan was originally priced at $450 million when first proposed. One study claims the LaGuardia AirTrain project could be the world’s most expensive transit project per rider in history.
The majority of the construction work on the AirTrain project was not slated to begin until April 2022.
Governor Kathy Hochul should also cancel Cuomo’s Penn Station “Empire Station Complex” managed by the Empire State Development Corporation. It faces many financial, legal and operational conflicts and issues. This $16 billion project, just like the Port Authority $10 billion new 42nd Street Manhattan bus Terminal, are both counting on the sale of air rights as a source for billions to help defray construction costs. There is a glut of surplus office space in Hudson Yards and other Manhattan neighborhoods The Penn Station Empire Station Complex and Port Authority Bus Terminal projects are both located on the west side of midtown Manhattan only eight blocks apart from each other. They will be competing against each other for tenants.
If the air rights sale generates less than anticipated revenue, the shortfall could be billions. This deficit will have to be made up by ESDC – the project sponsor. They will look toward the states of NY and NJ, the MTA and NJ Transit for a bailout. This means higher MTA and Port Authority bridge tolls, fare increases for NJ Transit, LIRR and NYC Transit subway riders along with other tax increases and user fees
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office..