LaGuardia Airport’s AirTrain clears last big hurdle as FAA approves $2.1 billion plan

Jul 21, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post was updated to clarify current public transport options to LGA.

The makeover of one of America’s least-liked major airports continues.

LaGuardia Airport’s (LGA) AirTrain has just gained approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), clearing the way for work to begin on the $2.1 billion elevated rail project before the summer winds down, according to the New York Times. It’s the latest improvement designed to transform LaGuardia, an airport President Biden once referred to as “a third-world country” and TPG once named the worst airport in the U.S., into a world-class airport.

This latest improvement, once completed, could actually allow the words “convenient” and “LaGuardia” to be used in the same sentence, for perhaps the first time ever.

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What does the AirTrain mean for travelers? It provides for the first time a direct rail connection that allows people to get to and from LaGuardia without having to endure New York City’s legendarily frustrating traffic problems. If early planning for the project begins at the end of summer, it’s estimated the AirTrain will be completed in 2025.

It can’t come quickly enough for some New Yorkers, who have griped for years about the airport being one of the only major terminals in the northeast to not have reliable direct rail options.

For years, that has been one of the consistent complaints about LaGuardia, which is less than 10 miles from Manhattan. Passengers flying in and out of LGA mostly take cabs and ride share services, because the public transportation options to get you to and from the airport generally involve a subway ride and then a bus transfer. You can imagine the traffic congestion this causes.

TPG has covered the project in detail in the past; you can read much more about it here.

Related: Which NYC area airport should I fly into?

That’s where the AirTrain comes in. It is said to offer a maximum 30-minute commute from Midtown Manhattan for people boarding the 7 Subway train or a Long Island RailRoad train (L.I.R.R.). Those trains both service the Mets-Willets Point station in Queens. The AirTrain will then run along the north side of the Grand Central Parkway from Willets Point to two stations at LaGuardia.

The route the AirTrain will take is one of several concerns raised by critics, including political rising star and Queens Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the environmental group Riverkeeper. Both argue that the path the AirTrain takes is indirect and will have a negative impact on surrounding Queens communities.

To get to Manhattan, which is west of LaGuardia, travelers leaving the airport would first go the opposite way — riding east to connect to the subway or a commuter train at a station next to CitiField, where the Mets play. Port Authority officials defend the chosen route as the least disruptive to the neighborhoods around the airport in northern Queens.

The AirTrain is the latest component of the plan by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to essentially build an entirely new LaGuardia Airport. If you’ve flown in or out of LGA in the past two years, you’ve no doubt noticed some of the improvements, especially with the brand new Terminal B.

Related: LaGuardia’s new terminal B is a huge upgrade

All of the airport terminals and gates are being replaced and when completed, will provide easier access for travelers moving between them. The recently-finished West parking garage has also helped alleviate one of LaGuardia’s most frustrating elements, the endless traffic backup of cabs, private vehicles and rideshares.

As mentioned before, the price tag for the AirTrain is marked at $2.1 billion, essentially five times the original estimate of $450 million given when the project was first proposed in 2015. The Port Authority, which runs the three major NYC-area airports, has seen its financial picture badly hurt by the pandemic’s impact on travel. It says it plans to pay for the AirTrain using fees collected from passengers at the airports it runs, but the F.A.A. has yet to approve that plan.

Featured image by: SOPA Images/Getty Images


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