$2 billion approved for LaGuardia Airport rail link.

Follow us on social media and always stay updated

A $2 billion plan to build an elevated train link connecting New York City to LaGuardia Airport through an intermediate stop is the best alternative to improve traffic delays, federal regulators said in a preliminary environmental impact statement released Friday.

Depending on final environmental approval, construction could begin as early as next summer and be completed by the end of 2025, the Federal Aviation Administration wrote Friday. The New York and New Jersey Ports Authority has already approved funding for the project, which has generated opposition from neighborhood groups in Queens and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents part of the area for which the link is scheduled.

Even if the approvals are granted, it is not known if the project will be delayed due to funding problems resulting from the enormous revenue losses suffered this year by the Port Authority due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The AirTrain project is part of the ongoing $8 billion renovation of LaGuardia Airport, which has been delayed at least one to two years by the pandemic because private sector cash has dried up.

City and transit officials have sought for decades to connect Manhattan and LaGuardia, considered one of the few major airports in the U.S. without a rail link. The Port Authority’s plan, supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo, would build an elevated track to connect the airport to the 7-line subway and LIRR train stop that serves CitiField, home of the New York Mets, and the U.S. Open National Tennis Center.

The FAA report said it considered dozens of other proposed alternatives, including ferry service, improved bus service, and extension of subway service to the airport, and concluded that the Port Authority’s plan was the only one “deemed reasonable to build and operate.

“We are one step closer to achieving the project’s benefits for the region,” Port Authority President Kevin O’Toole said in a statement. “AirTrain LGA will provide millions and millions of air travelers with a reliable 30-minute ride from downtown Manhattan to the airport.

Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said in a separate statement that the initial proposed route of the rail link moved northward, away from a neighborhood across the Grand Central Parkway from the airport. The plan would not require the taking of any private property, Cotton said.

Cotton told our sister network, NBC New York, that federal funding remains an open question and dismissed critics and transit advocates who pushed for a subway extension to the airport instead of the AirTrain.

“With all due respect, that’s a nonsensical argument,” Cotton said. “It’ll be six minutes to the airport; less than 30 minutes to the city is a big advantage for public transportation.

However, some of the impacts on the neighborhood could be significant. The FAA report concluded that the neighborhood “would experience disproportionately high and adverse noise and vibration impacts” during construction and significant light emissions once the link is operational. In addition, 93 residential units bordering the Parkway would have obstructed views of Flushing Bay.

Critics have said that Port Authority travel time estimates are too optimistic and that the price of the 1.5 mile link is too high for the number of people it is expected to serve. A Port Authority study projected passenger numbers of 17,000 per day in 2026 and just over 18,000 by 2031; the FAA estimates 13,000 people by 2026 and 14,000 by 2031.

In a letter to FAA officials in January, Ocasio-Cortez said that last fall’s public comments were overwhelmingly against the Port Authority’s proposed route. He also asked the FAA to clarify why options including ferry service, dedicated bus lanes and an extension of the N/W subway line were eliminated as options. A message was left on Friday at the Ocasio-Cortez office seeking comments.

By Telemundo 47