Just say no to the Stewart Airport connection

By · Published in 2009

Around once a year, the ill-conceived plans to build, well, something out to the Stewart Airport in Orange County make headlines, and every year, I ask for that money to spent on more worthy projects. (See 2007 and 2008.)

The Stewart Airport issue is once again back in the news, and again, I’m inclined to speak out against it. This time around, the story is about the short list of potential options for this airport connection. Judy Rife writes:

A short list of options for improving bus and rail service to Stewart International Airport and New York City has emerged from the 106 suggestions that Metro-North and the Port Authority have been mulling for the past year.

Still in the running are a new rail link between the airport and Metro-North’s Salisbury Mills station, bus service between Stewart and Salisbury Mills as well as Metro-North’s Beacon station and New York City, and bus service between the airport and new or expanded park-and-rides in a roughly 45-mile radius.

Out are such ideas as ferry service between Newburgh and New York City — the trip would be too long, involve too many transfers and be unreliable in bad weather. A new rail link between the airport and Beacon didn’t make the cut because of environmental impact and cost. And light rail or automated guideways between the airport and train stations lost out to more flexible and much cheaper buses.

That study nearly $4.67 million, and right now there, it seems as though there is no more cash in hand for further movement. The rail link, by the way, would probably cost upwards of $1 billion. Meanwhile, with Airtran out at Stewart, passenger volumes are poised to hit an all-time low and could sink lower. Talk about no return for an investment.

Right now, I’m not the only one who is no fan of this project. Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic examined the issue today and walked away with the same conclusions:

The airport is quite far away from the city’s population centers and will therefore have difficulty attracting crowds from the city; the airport’s current offerings of flights to just five destinations — Philadelphia, Atlanta, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, and Detroit — indicate that a serious increase in demand there from locals is unlikely over the next few years. Few commuters are going to be willing ride the 90 minute plus train between Penn Station and the airport, so why is this link a priority? It certainly doesn’t seem likely to cut down on air congestion.

Let’s imagine that the $1 billion existed to build this project, unlikely enough considering the MTA’s dismal fiscal situation. Wouldn’t it make more sense, from the perspective of improving transit, to spend it on desperately needed projects such as the Second Avenue Subway? People in Orange County — population 350,000 — may want more transit, but so do the roughly 350,000 people who live in East Harlem and the Upper East Side, and the latter group, to say the least, is far more likely to use public transportation than the former. Certainly, cheap express buses should be considered, but a rail link seems completely unnecessary.

That about says it all. I’m all in favor of bringing more mass transit to the upstate counties that are underserved by the state’s public transit options, but we should do so in a cost-efficient way. This airport rail link may have been a good idea a few decades ago, but right now, it’s time to scrap those plans.

Categories : Metro-North

9 Responses to “Just say no to the Stewart Airport connection”

  1. Kai says:

    This airport rail link may have been a good idea a few decades ago

    And it will probably be a good idea again in a half-decade or so, when (hopefully) the economy is in another huge boom and JFK, EWR, and LGA are bursting at the seams.

    Right now these three airports have enough capacity given the lower flight volume these days.

  2. Peter says:

    A B I L L I O N Dollars to bring unneeded service to an airport that presently serves five destinations, one of which is already reachable by Amtrak in less time than it would take to get from Midtown to Stewart??

    Right now, MacArthur Airport is slightly over an hour away from Penn Station on the Long Island Rail Road, and separated from the Ronkonkoma LIRR Station by…. a chainlink fence. A tightened schedule could make Penn Station-MacArthur in under an hour, and if the usual 11th Commandment of NY Government & Railroad Bureauacracy (“We Never Did It That Way Before”)could be overcome, passengers could check in with their airline at Penn Station, take a nonstop or 2 Stop (Woodside, Hicksville) train, transfer to jitneys on the Ronkonkoma platform and be driven DIRECTLY to their gates, while their baggage was delivered to their plane.

    But nobody would make any money selling a $Billion worth of bonds, no expensive planning scenarios and alternatives would need to be studied and argued over, no lobbyists would be hired, no gigantic ballooning-budget planning & construction contracts would need to be funded, and no expensive trough constructed for the usual cast of sleazy politicians to gobble from.

    So, we better go with the Billion-$ Stewart Plan, and when it turnes out to cost a Billion-and-a-half, so that 350 people a day can fly to Orlando for $12 per ticket less than it takes to fly from Newark, all the better.

  3. Ariel says:

    Instead of focusing so much on Stewart, the Port Authority, the MTA, and however else is involved needs to concentrate bringing better transit to LaGuardia. The transit options there are a shame and LaGuardia is already an essential airport.

    An AirTrain connecting the airport to the 7 train and a LIRR station would be more effective and would give the state a much better return on investment.

    • I’d love to see a LaGuardia connection, but that’s a right-of-way issue as much as it is anything else. To connect JFK to the AirTrain, the MTA and Port Authority were able to build over highways. But LaGuardia is in the middle of Astoria. The best way would be to connect from Astoria Boulevard and run an AirTrain along Grand Central to LaGuardia. Still, there’s not really enough room for it there either.

      I guess you could run a train from Shea Stadium/Citi Field along the Grand Central. That’s a 3-mile AirTrain which is shorter than the route at JFK.

      • Marc Shepherd says:

        Mayor Giuliani was a big proponent of the LaGuardia Airport subway connection. It got as far as a planning study, but the project died when he left office. An extension of the N train was considered the most practical option, but there was neighborhood opposition, as it would involve extending an elevated line through a residential area.

        Airport capacity is a significant long-term issue for the New York region. You have to think 10-20 years ahead, because that’s how long it takes to build or expand an airport.

      • Jason says:

        jeez, wish they had extended the N train to LGA. I always look at the subway map and see how close the elevated line comes to LGA, but not quite all the way.

        I know it would be cheaper and easier to continue the elevated line straight to the airport, but if the city invested a bit more and dropped the line underground, you would have no resident opposition, and extra stop or two added on to the line itself, and everyone who uses LGA would benefit from no longer having to shell out taxi money to get there.

        looks so easy yet everyone has to put their two cents into everything in this town and nothing ever gets done

  4. Niccolo Machiavelli says:

    It all comes down to the money in the end. The line doesn’t get extended to LaGuardia for the same reason that the A or the LIRR don’t directly serve Kennedy. It is all paid for by the Port Authority’s Passenger Facility Surcharge that the airlines assured would be spent only on Airport and PA projects. Integrating the train with the existing system is obviously more valuable to the citizens but that involves mixing funds.


  1. […] to planes. He wants a subway the LaGuardia, the PATH to Newark, a rail link to Stewart Airport (I do not) and better integration between the subway and the JFK AirTrain. It’s hard to dispute the […]

  2. […] authority would have provided a 90-minute ride to the tiny airport, and I long believed this to be a waste of money. Stewart is just too far away and adds too much time to a trip to be as popular as it must be to […]

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