The LaGuardia AirTrain project just passed a major milestone

Mar 16, 2021

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All aboard the New York LaGuardia AirTrain.

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the LaGuardia Airport access improvement project, which includes a proposed automated people mover AirTrain system for flyers headed to or from the airport.

The final EIS is the last major hurdle to getting the federal agency’s stamp of approval for the proposed AirTrain. The record of decision is expected in the second quarter of this year, following a minimum 30-day waiting period after publishing the final EIS.

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The 600-page EIS reviews the proposed AirTrain in its entirety, discussing many of the proposed community benefits, environmental impacts, expected ridership and more. It also considers alternatives to building the AirTrain, including using other modes of transportation and various subway extensions.

According to a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spokesperson, “this milestone represents a very important step forward in building a rapid, reliable, and sustainable rail mass transit link to the airport. We appreciate the time and effort the FAA has put into its exhaustive review of the project.” The Port Authority operates the LGA airport.

Many of the project’s benefits that the Port Authority is touting include creating 3,000 construction jobs and $500 million in contract opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses, as well as opportunities for local, Queens-based residents. The Port Authority is pledging more than $50 million in commitments to transformational investments in the Flushing Bay Promenade and other nearby parks.

Related: LaGuardia’s new terminal is a major upgrade — see for yourself

Of course, the major benefit for flyers will be the new rail link to LGA, which promises to provide a reliable, 30-minute travel time from Midtown Manhattan. Right now, with Metro service set to debut at Washington’s Dulles airport early next year, LGA is the last major airport along the Northeast corridor to lack a rail link. If approved, AirTrain construction is slated to begin in June 2021 and be completed by the end of 2025.

The proposed elevated AirTrain will connect to the subway and Long Island Railroad at Mets-Willets Point station in Queens. The six-minute train will run every four minutes between the station and the airport. The AirTrain would have two on-airport stations. (The basics of the LGA AirTrain are similar to the same train system built for the JFK Airport in 2003.)

Travel times between LaGuardia and Manhattan via the proposed AirTrain and LIRR. (Image courtesy of the PANYNJ)

Today, nearly 90% of passengers arrive at LGA by private vehicle, causing heavy roadway congestion, especially on the airport’s narrow lanes. By building the AirTrain, the Port Authority hopes that flyers will choose the public transit alternative.

The AirTrain is the latest passenger-facing development for LaGuardia.

Though President Biden once referred to this airport as a “third-world country,” he’d probably revise that statement if he visited today. The brand-new Terminal B Arrivals and Departures Hall just opened last summer, with new gate concourses opening shortly thereafter.

Related: First look at American Airlines’ brand-new terminal at LGA

Delta is also busy upgrading its LGA presence, with a $3.9 billion redevelopment project underway. As originally laid out, the work includes a carefully choreographed dance of construction and demolition over nine years — or by 2026 — to minimize any impact to travelers and keep the airline’s flights moving.

“We’re working on innovative solutions for LaGuardia,” Hauenstein told staff in May 2020 without providing specifics. “We’ll take a significant amount of time and bring some of the customer-facing improvements earlier in the process.”

As for the AirTrain, it still faces some opposition. According to the Port Authority, “based on the final EIS, more than 75 percent of all the comments filed supported the project moving forward and, of those who expressed an opinion in support of or opposed to the project during the FAA’s public comment process, more than 90 percent supported the project.”

But vocal opponents include U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who recently shared in a statement that “it is clear from the FAA’s response that several alternatives were ruled out for reasons inconsistent with the stated screening criteria… [Queens residents] are owed a fair and transparent evaluation of transportation alternatives to LaGuardia Airport.”

Many Manhattan-based travelers are concerned by the amount of backtracking involved with the proposed AirTrain. The Willets Point station is southeast of the airport, so travelers will need to travel a longer-than-necessary distance to get to or from the city.

Featured photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

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