The AirTrain to LaGuardia is officially dead; say hello to more buses

13 March 2023

If you were hoping to catch a train directly to New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA), you’re out of luck.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the government agency that manages LGA, announced Monday that after an extensive review of mass transit options, the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia is officially scrapped.

In its place, the expert panel consisting of three aviation and mass-transit experts recommended that the agency simply improve bus service to the airport.

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ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

The recommended improvements are broken down into two phases.

The first is to upgrade the existing Metropolitan Transportation Authority Q70 LaGuardia Link bus service that connects to Jackson Heights and Woodside in Queens. The recommendations include building a milelong exclusive bus lane on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, adding more frequencies in response to increased demand, improving the wayfinding signage and giving the transit signal priority to the bus to minimize travel time.

The second phase would see a brand-new nonstop shuttle launch from LaGuardia to the last stop on the N/W subway line at the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd station in Queens. The proposed bus would stop at all three LaGuardia terminals and would be operated by fully electric vehicles, the report said.

The panel recommends that this new bus would use dedicated traffic lanes during peak hours and that improvements should be made to the accessibility of the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd Station. This new bus would “assure ease of use by airport travelers,” the panel said.

If this bus service does launch, it would likely take 10 to 15 minutes to get from the airport to the subway, and then another 30 minutes to take the N/W into midtown Manhattan.

It’s been nearly a decade since the AirTrain to LaGuardia was first announced by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015, at an estimated cost of $450 million.

A BETTER WAY TO LAGUARDIA

Over the years, the project ballooned in cost and scale, and opponents to the AirTrain often cited that it would require going out of the way to the Mets-Willets Point subway and Long Island Rail Road station to ultimately get to and from Manhattan. Other AirTrain opponents criticized that it would take land designated as parks and other public spaces away from the local community.

That said, the AirTrain won final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration in July 2021 to allow work to commence on the elevated rail, which at the time came in at an estimated $2.1 billion budget. The AirTrain to LGA promised to provide a reliable, 30-minute travel time from midtown Manhattan.

However, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul pumped the breaks on the proposed AirTrain in late 2021, after taking over for Cuomo following sexual harassment allegations against him.

“I don’t feel obligated to accept what I have inherited,” Hocul said at the time, before adding, “there were alternatives on the table that even the FAA said that people were saying people were not looking at as close as they should.”

Travel times between LaGuardia and Manhattan via the proposed AirTrain and LIRR. PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY

Hochul’s announcement led to the formation of an expert panel to study 14 possible mass transit alternatives for LaGuardia, including the AirTrain and some options as far-fetched as ferry service and emerging technologies such as a hyperloop.

The study “expressed a strong preference for a ‘one-seat ride via subway,’” the Port Authority statement reads, but given the “serious, unresolved constructability and cost challenges” to building a subway extension to the airport, the immediate focus should be on improving bus service, the panel concluded.

LGA is the only major airport along the Northeast corridor to lack a rail link, and it will stay that way with the outcome of this mass transit study.

Going forward, the Port Authority will bring the recommendation of increased bus service to its Board of Commissioners in the next two to three months to begin the process of funding the project.

Today, nearly 90% of passengers arrive at LGA by private vehicle, causing heavy roadway congestion on the airport’s narrow lanes. Hopefully, the additional bus service will help alleviate some of this congestion.

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