Recent discussions surrounding former governor Andrew Cuomo’s AirTrain proposal have now shifted to officials calling on the Port Authority to find an alternative route that would connect LaGuardia Airport with the New York City subway system.
Stopped Right on Its Tracks
Despite the project receiving clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration in late July, the PANYNJ was directed by current governor Kathy Hochul to explore other options, in an open statement issued on Monday, October 25:
“I have asked the Port Authority to thoroughly examine 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.”
As a result, progress on the $2.1 billion AirTrain has now been halted, with both environmental groups and Queens residents demanding that the FAA suspend the project entirely.
End of the Line?
Originally announced in January 2015, Cuomo’s proposal was intended to function similarly to the JFK AirTrain, with LaGuardia Airport’s terminals being linked to stations at Mets Willets Point and Flushing Meadows Point, until merging with the 7 train and connecting to the LIRR.
While the New York State Legislature would approve a law granting Andrew Cuomo’s proposal funding in June 2018, the AirTrain project faced criticism due to its construction potentially polluting Flushing Bay as well as further increasing commuter traffic on the 7 train.
Now with the AirTrain delayed and demands for the Port Authority to look for alternative routes, many are speculating whether the N/W line to Astoria may be an ideal replacement.
The idea is nothing new, as it was initially proposed during Rudy Giuliani’s administration, where an extension of the AirTrain would have connected to LaGuardia Airport past the N terminal at Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard, the last stop on the respective line.
Despite having been rejected back then, the proposal has since been gaining traction with political leaders including Senator Mike Gianaris, who recently voiced his support for the project, saying how it would be less disruptive for neighborhoods to build a rail line towards LaGuardia.
New York Congestion
While construction of the AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport has been contentious among officials, Queens residents, environmental groups, and transit activists, an unexpected consequence of the project has been a reignited interest in New York City’s subway infrastructure.
When asked about the subway route from Astoria to LaGuardia Airport, Queens College Urban Studies Assistant Professor Dr. Dwayne Baker, explains how some areas in New York City still don’t have immediate access to the subway: “Anything north of Astoria Blvd doesn’t have a subway connection. So essentially everyone has to drive or take a bus to Queens or Manhattan where most jobs are located.”
Emphasizing how New York City is still mostly an auto-oriented city, Dr. Baker sheds light on another important topic many residents face: long commute times.
“I actually think the project would lessen congestion and traffic. If expanded, the proposed route would leave at the end of the W line. That line is not going into any neighborhood; it’s going to go onto Astoria Blvd and Grand Central Parkway through the median there, so it won’t disrupt local roads. And if you’ve ever been there [Grand Central Parkway], especially 5-6pm, it’s pretty congested. So having that new line could help alleviate some of the traffic.”
Dr. Baker’s words are further supported with a study conducted by Coverage.com, which used pre-COVID data and 2018 figures from the US Census Bureau’s American Community survey to calculate the average commute times of states across the country.
The results revealed that New Yorkers spend an average of 33.3 minutes driving to work, coming in first place while beating out Maryland (32.9 minutes) and New Jersey (31.7 minutes).
“Anything to help improve commute times is beneficial. I think this project is long overdue. We still have a comprehensive city, but we don’t have a subway connection or mass transit connection to any of our airports in New York City, which is lacking compared to other major cities across the U.S.,” Dr. Baker explains, hoping the project will at the very least bring more attention to improving the city’s subway system.
The AirTrain’s Future
With Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton determined to move forward with the AirTrain project, the subway extension still remains a contentious topic for New Yorkers. While still in a traffic jam, the roads may soon clear up again for LaGuardia Airport’s new mode of access.