Cuomo’s $2.1 billion LaGuardia AirTrain project receives federal approval

Gov The Builder

Cuomo’s $2.1 billion LaGuardia AirTrain project receives federal approval

Governor Andrew Cuomo has received FAA approval for the construction of a new AirTrain line to LaGuardia Airport. (Courtesy Governor Andrew Cuomo's Office)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo fancies himself something of a master builder. Over the course of his nearly 12-year gubernatorial tenure, he has cut the ribbon on the Hudson River-spanning Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, a comprehensive rebuilding of LaGuardia Airport, and, most recently, the much-vaunted Moynihan Train Hall on Manhattan’s Far West Side. Now, after years of back-and-forth, the governor has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to construct a $2.1 billion AirTrain extension to LaGuardia Airport.

As a global metropolis, New York City is exceptional in that it lacks one-seat public transportation links to its primary aviation hubs, LaGuardia Airport and JFK International Airport. In the case of the former, the would-be traveler must either arrive at the airport by car or schlep by public transport to the vicinity of Flushing Meadows Park, then embark on the Q60 bus line which putters up-and-down Grand Central Parkway delivering commuters to the Central Terminal.

Aerial image of the proposed route of the monorail
The proposal will see a new 1.5-mile monorail constructed from the Mets-Willets Point LIRR and 7 train stations to LaGuardia Airport. (Courtesy Federal Aviation Administration)

The present state of affairs pleases few and angers many, and proposals to stitch the airport to the region’s mass transit network have failed to come to fruition for decades; past plans included the extension of the N/W line through Astoria-Ditmars to the airport or the threading of a new line along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The approved plan is a 1.5-mile project that will run between LaGuardia Airport and the 7 train and Long Island Rail Road stations at Mets-Willets Point, and, similar to the JFK AirTrain, will be a monorail.

While few would argue in principle against the construction of a rail link to LaGuardia Airport, transit experts are left scratching their heads as to the wisdom of Cuomo’s vision. As Curbed points out, the proposal does little to further subway access for residents of Eastern Queens and the estimated cost has quintupled from $500 million to the present $2.1 billion figure (that translates to a whopping $1 billion a mile). Notably, the proposed route is less direct than prior proposals, and the estimated 30-minute commute from Midtown relies on the perfect synchronization of platform transfers—a figure of great optimism that broaches on outlandish.

A rendering of the new AirTrain station at Willets Point
A new station will be constructed at Willets Point for transfer to the AirTrain. (Courtesy Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office)

Although the merits of the project are up for debate, there is no denying the great benefits that could be accrued by the construction industry. In a press release from March 2021, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimated that the project will deliver 3,000 construction jobs and a total of “$500 million in contracting opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses as well as contracting opportunities for local, Queens-based businesses. The project will fund investments in workforce development, educational opportunities, and community events.” Furthermore, $50 million will be invested in improving nearby parks such as the Flushing Bay Promenade.

Construction is expected to kick off next June, just a few months the next gubernatorial election.