New York Governor Kathy Hochul pauses Cuomo’s LaGuardia AirTrain

Air Today, Gone Tomorrow

New York Governor Kathy Hochul pauses Cuomo’s LaGuardia AirTrain

A rendering of the AirTrain pulling into LaGuardia Airport. (Courtesy former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office)

[Editor’s note: The day after the original publication of this story, October 11, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has officially paused work on the LaGuardia Airport AirTrain project. The agency released the following statement on October 12:

“At Governor Hochul’s request, the Port Authority is undertaking a thorough review of potential alternative mass transit options to LaGuardia Airport. The agency will work in close consultation with independent experts and stakeholders, and will complete its work as expeditiously as possible, consistent with the need for the review to be thorough and rigorous. During the review, the Port Authority will pause further action with respect to the LaGuardia AirTrain project.”]

Despite former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo receiving federal approval for his $2.1 billion AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport in June, his successor Kathy Hochul is reportedly having second thoughts about the pet project.

In a statement put out last Monday, October 4, Hochul called for the Port Authority to look for alternatives to the people-mover, something that likely won’t be met with major resistance. After Cuomo’s resignation in August, a group of Port Authority employees released a public letter calling for the project’s cancelation, and officials at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Mayor Bill de Blasio, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a bevy of transportation activists, and key state officials have all come out against the AirTrain plan.

The Governor’s statement is as follows:

“New Yorkers deserve world-class transportation to world-class airports. I have asked the Port Authority to thoroughly examine alternative mass transit solutions for reducing car traffic and increasing connectivity to LaGuardia Airport.

We must ensure that our transportation projects are bold, visionary, and serve the needs of New Yorkers. I remain committed to working expeditiously to rebuild our infrastructure for the 21st century and to create jobs – not just at LaGuardia, but at all of our airports and transit hubs across New York.”

New York’s fractured approach to airport connectivity is legendary, with travelers needing to switch between an assortment of busses, subway lines, and airport shuttles to travel to and from LaGuardia or JFK International Airport. On its face, the idea of building a direct line to LaGuardia Airport, a busy domestic flight hub, makes sense. The 1.5-mile monorail would begin at a new station at Willets Point in Queens that would connect the Mets-Willets Point LIRR and 7 train stations along a waterfront promenade to LaGuardia Airport. Fomer Governor Cuomo promised that the AirTrain would be capable of ferrying travelers from Midtown Manhattan in 30 minutes.

the airtrain route from queens to queens
(Courtesy Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office)

Aside from the astronomical cost, which rose to the aforementioned $2.1 billion from an initial estimate of $500 million, detractors claim that the current AirTrain route does little to further mass transit access for residents in eastern Queens, and that there are more direct paths that would make more sense.

New York State legislators are pushing Hochul to do more than just ask for alternative schemes; according to Gothamist, Jessica Ramos, Leroy Comrie, Michael Gianaris and other lawmakers are actively asking her to cancel the project outright.

If the LaGuardia AirTrain project had gone ahead as originally planned, it would have been on track to break ground in June of 2022. Alternative such as lengthening the 7 or N subway lines or running a series of busses and ferries to the airport, were weighed by the FAA when it considered the project’s environmental impact statement in 2020 but ultimately decided against. Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton, however, was reportedly still pushing the project ahead after the governor’s statement and has defended the AirTrain as the best project for the route, claiming it would drastically cut down on car travel.

Hochul, at a press conference on that same Monday after the statement’s release, elaborated that though she isn’t pulling the plug on the project, she doesn’t “feel obligated to accept what I’ve inherited. I have an opportunity to take a clean look at these issues and to hear from many individuals that there were alternatives on the table — that even the FAA said that people were saying did not look at as closely as they should’ve.”