AirTrain’s $2.1 billion plan to La Guardia has been discontinued
The brakes are officially off on a $2.1 billion AirTrain construction plan to LaGuardia Airport.
The agency that operates the airport, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said Tuesday afternoon it would “pause overtime” on the project, which former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has pushed hard.
Mr Cuomo’s successor, Governor Cathy Hochhol, has called for a review of alternatives to the AirTrain plan, which has been the target of criticism from community groups and elected officials.
Among the complaints was that his way out of the way would deter riders and that it would damage property values in neighborhoods that surround LaGuardia in northern Queens.
Despite these objections, the Federal Aviation Administration gave its approval to the AirTrain plan in late July, paving the way for the port authority to move forward.
But three weeks ago, two Queens-based community groups and the River Keeper Environmental Group sued to stop the project, arguing that the FAA had scrapped some alternatives without giving them proper consideration.
The groups also asked the Federal Aviation Administration to suspend its approval of the project. The FAA gave the port authority until Tuesday to oppose the residence grants. The agency argued, in part, that the moratorium on review demanded by Ms Hoechul rendered the moratorium unnecessary.
“At the request of Governor Hochhol, the Port Authority is conducting a comprehensive review of potential alternative mass transit options to LaGuardia Airport,” the agency said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. “The agency will work in close consultation with independent experts and stakeholders, and will complete its work as quickly as possible, consistent with the need for the review to be comprehensive and rigorous.”
Michael Dolong, River Keeper’s chief attorney, welcomed the review. “We are looking for the best transit alternative for the area which has the least impact on local communities and the environment,” said Mr. Dulong.
Ms. Hochhol’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In her call last week to review “alternative mass transit solutions” that would reduce vehicular traffic and increase airport access, Ms. Hochhol said: “We must ensure that our transportation projects are bold, visionary and serve the needs of New Yorkers.”
Before Mr Cuomo abruptly resigned this summer after a government report found he had sexually harassed several women, he had lobbied the port authority to develop a railway to LaGuardia.
One of the governor’s pet projects was the ongoing repair of the airport. While in office, few elected officials publicly opposed the AirTrain plan, even as the estimated cost ballooned from $450 million to $2.1 billion in just a few years.
All of its funding was to come from the Port Authority, which is jointly controlled by the governors of New York and New Jersey, and fees added to airline tickets. AirTrain passengers will be charged a fare, as they are on the AirTrain at Kennedy International Airport. The current ride price is $7.75.
But once Mr Cuomo was out of power, he encouraged some elected officials to call for the AirTrain plan to be reconsidered or scrapped altogether.
Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters during a recent press conference at City Hall. “And now we have a chance to look at this thing in clear daylight.”
One of the most common criticisms of the project was the so-called wrong way. To get to Manhattan, arriving travelers will have to head east, away from the airport, to a station near Citi Field before they can double up on Subway Line 7 or the Long Island Railroad.
Critics also said the escalating costs would make the project one of the most expensive railways in the world.
In its defense, Port Authority officials asserted that the chosen line running along the Grand Central Parkway from Willets Point would be the least complex for residential neighborhoods. They said the alternatives, including the extension of the Subway Line N from Astoria, would require the takeover of private property.
Besides the subway extension, which is likely to be built by the financially struggling Metropolitan Transportation Authority, other alternatives include express bus service, ferries or the AirTrain with a more direct route.