Will Cuomo’s Departure Save Us From The LaGuardia AirTrain To Nowhere?

Dozens of Port Authority of New York New Jersey are speaking out about the non-sensical plan to build a train to nowhere from New York LaGuardia now that Governor Andrew Cuomo is resigning and it’s safe to do so.

”For too long, Gov. Cuomo and his staff have repeatedly pushed the agency to make non-transparent, politically motivated decisions, including decisions that squander the trust and money of our bondholders, customers, and the general public,” said a letter sent to Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton on Tuesday by dozens of staffers.

“The time has come to speak out and stand up for what is right.”

It calls for the Port Authority Inspector General to look into whether Cuomo exerted “undue influence” that prompted agency officials to “manipulate the federally-mandated Environmental Impact Statement process” to approve the LaGuardia AirTrain over proposed alternatives like a subway extension or dedicated bus lanes to the airport.

It all began when then-Vice President Joe Biden declared New York LaGuardia airport to be like “some third world country” in 2014. Together Biden and Cuomo got a plan for the airport fast-tracked. That got us a stunning Central Terminal but a new building and high-end retail does nothing to solve the three most important things an airport does,

  1. Get you there quickly
  2. Get you through quickly
  3. Get you up in the air and back down quickly

There’s no new runway, and airspace remains congested in normal times because no real progress has been made modernizing air traffic control. We were supposed to get a seamless transit option to Manhattan. Instead, we got a more expensive than planned white elephant: a plan to connect New York LaGuardia airport to Manhattan by train designed to sail through approvals quickly, not deliver the best transit option to New Yorkers and visitors.

  • They’d build a 1.5 mile train from the airport to the Willets Point station. This meant going the opposite direction of the city to connect to other existing trains – the 7 subway and Long Island Rail Road.

  • The price tag was estimated at $450 million. It’s already up over $2 billion.

After billions of dollars LaGuardia would lack a direct train to the city, and wouldn’t even be efficiently connected. But the plan involved inconveniencing relatively few residents. That, combined with the political firepower of the governor and – at the time – the Obama administration seemed like they could accomplish something even if it was a second (or fourth) best. And under the Biden administration (since it all started with Biden) the FAA has granted approval even though the FAA knew the Port Authority of New York New Jersey was fudging its analysis

There won’t be a direct link to the city. It’ll take passengers away from the city before sending them back to it. And it’ll add congestion to the already crowded 7 line, trading airport road congestion for public transit congestion.

Cuomo was preparing for a ribbon cutting on the project, but it’s effectively giving up. It was deemed the best option because it was the option that could be done at least with enough strong-arming by Cuomo – because the U.S. has become bad at doing major infrastructure projects.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The LAX people mover will also slow things down at all non-peak times for the sake of eliminating peak congestion in the loop. These people mover projects are always politically motivated and wasteful. It’s rare that they improve travel for customers.

  2. For an airport with a “Marine Air Terminal” and a city that now has a wide array of ferry options, it’s a cryin’ shame that someone doesn’t look seriously at ferry service to the airport.

    For the billions they are about to spend on their ridiculous rail service, they could easily build an amazing airport ferry service utilizing all of the existing ferry terminals along with an intra-airport monorail connecting terminal A (the Marine Air Terminal) with the others.

    You could get from 34th St. in Manhattan to LGA in about 20 minutes and about 30 from Wall St. No residents would be harmed or inconvenienced. And, it would probably cost a whole lot less than the current plan.

  3. They don’t really need to do the project at all. They can just keep raising taxes until we all leave and then they won’t need an airport.

  4. @gary Ferry service shouldn’t be “a part of the plan”. It should be THE plan. There is absolutely no reason this would not work–especially since they spent millions over the past few years building ferry terminals all around the city (21 total). It’s really the only sane choice imho.

  5. Manhattan is hardly the only source of passengers heading to LaGuardia and, while the price tag of the train project has spun way out of control, in principle, a rail link to the subway and LIRR stands to benefit flyers coming from Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island (in addition to Manhattan) by providing a mass transit option that currently does not exist.

  6. @rob Did I mention those 19 other ferry terminals not located in Manhattan?

    As for Long Island, other than folks located on the North Shore of Nassau County (who are on the Port Washington Line), how would any of them use the proposed new airport train? There is no connection from Jamaica station where all but the Port Washington line connects through.

    Anyone not on the Port Washington Line would have to get off at Woodside (past the airport) and connect to a train going backward to Main St., only to then get on the LGA AirTrain to go forwards again to the airport. Sounds like a great plan.

  7. Agree on Ferry service. For $2BN you could have transformed NYC with a whole ferry network. The problem is the government writ large. The city part of the government can only use the $2BN from the federal part of the government to build a connection to the airport if it’s (i) a train and (ii) doesn’t take anyone else anywhere other than the airport. So you can’t have a ferry and you can’t have a subway extension straight to the airport until we get a new government.

  8. Ferry option has never been appealing to me: it’s a 3 seat ride (or two seats plus a long walk) for non-Marine Air passengers coming from midtown, and from most places in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx where people live and work.

    Ferry is great if you live by the waterfront in Brooklyn/LIC, and nice if you work near Pier 11. Everyone else, though…

    Backwards AirTrain would’ve made more sense if it was combined with a consolidated RAC facility at Willets Point. Take the Hertz and Avis lots and turn them into a park.
    Or if it was a forwards AirTrain to Woodside or Astoria.

  9. @Jonathan setting aside that (1) I supported only the principle of connecting existing rail to the airport rather than any specific plan, including this one and (2) I am not anti-ferry and support both services existing at once, I think some of what you said merits a response.

    Sure, only one LIRR line would have direct access to Willets Point. But for those living along many of those other lines, the idea of switching at Woodside – you know, a whole 7 minutes past Willets Point – is still a vast improvement over the current state of affairs, which offers no means to get to Laguardia by transit. Linking at Willets Point still gives lots of passengers in Nassau another option besides a cab/Uber (not to mention being about 20 minutes from Penn Station).

    The ferry is a fine option as a supplemental service, but the reality is that the subway is the most used mass transit system in the greater Western World. Providing a direct rail connection obviously opens up far more connections in the city than does a ferry terminal. This is not anti-ferry, because I am of the mind that the more options travelers have, the better. But in terms of access and potential passengers reached, there simply is not a comparison between the two modes.

  10. I think an important fact to consider with any transit connection to the airport is that employees are the primary market. Not travelers. It’s great to have travelers and a well designed line will attract them.

  11. The port Washington line will connect to Grand Central Terminal (42nd and Park) as part of the east side access project, opening in early 2023. (Tunnel dug, most construction complete)

    There was a ferry service that ran from Manhattan (34th street and 1st av) It ran for 10 years, and failed due to lack of ridership.

    LGA has 2 short runways that cross each other. On 3 sides of the runways, if you overshoot the runways prepare to swim. The 4th side ends at the Grand Central Parkway. The runways are too short for larger aircraft, and the airspace is too congested between JFK, EWR, HPN, etc. to really expand there.

    The problem with LGA isn’t the airport links. The problem with LGA is that it’s simply too small, with no room for expansion. The money should have gone to JFK and EWR. They have runways and terminals, and have breathing room for expansion.

  12. What exactly is the best plan? This plan was brain dead to begin with. (First go in the opposite direction then board overcrowded trains……………)
    I use Laguardia 2x’s a year to see relatives and have no trouble using #70 bus to Woodside to take the LIRR. Not perfect but it works.

  13. At John: seems like any mention of a bus causes peoples eyes to glaze over. I’m wondering it’s a mile and a half going the wrong way so why is that such a big deal? It’s only a mile and a half? I don’t live there so have no skin in the game but that doesn’t seem that far yet Gary is making it this huge deal. It’s where the closest train station is…..

  14. The point is why New Jersey agreed to build AirTran?

    Don’t forget NY and NJ are equal at board of PANYNJ.

    For $7 fare? NYC subway is $2.75 per trip. $7 is really a ripoff.

  15. The central failing of large modern mass transit projects is that Republicans want them to fail so bad, due to to opposition to big government and woke green urban types, that they are willing to get their hands dirty by using the regulatory labyrinth of community hearing, environmental reviews, etc to delay them to death knowing that big delays on projects requiring lots of equipment and planning and logistics lead to massive cost overruns. Meanwhile Democrats do like the projects, but they value their regulatory labyrinth more, and even as Republicans are squeezing one of their projects to death with it, they still need it to stop all kinds of oil pipelines, chemical plants, etc, so they maintain a ‘see no evil, hear no evil attitude’ and hum lullabies with their fingers to their ears pretending that its all completely fine when the 7th community hearing leads to a modification in the planned route that will restart the 5 year environmental review in year 14 of the overall planning process but still might not be the final route because of outstanding concerns about the route from a school district that wants it further away and a visitors bureau that wants it closer, which would all require it to intersect a neighborhood that doesn’t want it, which it would need to intersect a wetland to avoid. The right shoots the lefts baby with the lefts gun while the left repeats to themselves over and over ‘what gun?’

  16. C’mon Gary, be honest. You know the plan was to use a Duck Boat fleet .
    Why not contact Elon ? He has a plan to launch a rocket into low Earth orbit from the top of a Manhattan building then land it next to your flight.
    Boring Co?
    Nah, too boring.

  17. @Marc – this isn’t about ‘Republicans wanting stuff to fail’ even totally blue states are bad at this.

    See for instance Ezra Klein’s “How Blue Cities Became So Outrageously Unaffordable. How did the party of big government become the party of paralysis?” https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/23/opinion/ezra-klein-podcast-jerusalem-demsas.html

    We need to look at the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 which created environmental impact statements for most everything. It was well-intentioned, I think, a belief that the environment would benefit from greater citizen participation. But it’s created veto points at almost every turn so that any citizen or corporation with an interest and a lawyer can gum up the works (often for their own ends).

    There are other reasons too, but we can’t lay this one at the feet of Republicans.

  18. Many good points, but I don’t think 1.5 miles “away from the city” is material. Having lived in Manhattan for almost twenty years and worked all over Manhattan and Queens, I will say that any rail-only option will be an improvement and welcomed by many New Yorkers. The 7 train is often crowded but with the new Hudson Yards terminal, it’s very convenient with four stations across midtown and connections galore at Times Sq. and GCT and access to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Penn Station.

    Express bus lanes are not the answer. There’s no room to add any lanes so they would have to take lanes away from other traffic.

  19. The ferry terminals are generally not well connected to the rest of the transit lines, and they are distant from most ultimate destinations, it’s not really a good solution for either travelers or airport employees.

    What would create the most value would be to extend the Astoria line (N/W) to LGA. That would create a one seat ride to many key destinations in Manhattan and many easy and good transfer opportunities. Not another “Airtrain” for a forced transfer and an exhorbitant extra charge.

  20. Extend the N train to LGA instead. No changing, more direct route, not that far to go, and much easier. For one fare, travel to LGA from Brooklyn and Manhattan (Broadway) directly to the airport.

  21. “The central failing of large modern mass transit projects is that Republicans want them to fail so bad, ”

    What kind of conspiratorial nutcase do you have to be to see “Republicans” as the dark force behind poorly designed infrastructure projects in a one-party City within a one-party State, with nary a Republican in sight when every aspect of this plan has been designed and approved by Democrats and their cronies? As Gary has already pointed out, NYC and virtually every other large City in the USA is run entirely by Democrats, and the fact that they run these cities without any competition to challenge their power is a license to engage in self-serving behavior where competence is of no value..

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