After years of lingering in limbo as costs increased fourfold, the Willets Point-based Laguardia Airtrain is rushing toward approval while community groups, transit activists and good governance watchdogs cry foul over a process heavily weighted to favor only Cuomo’s favored proposal even as evidence strongly supports better and more comprehensive transit solutions. Can this plan, a brainchild of Gov. Andrew Cuomo I have not-so-affectionately dubbed the Backwards Airtrain, be stopped?
We’ll find out soon if anything can be done to take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to improve transit access to Laguardia, but the process Cuomo wants is rushing along. Next week, the FAA and Port Authority are hosting a pair of public information sessions, and while they claim they haven’t selected a preferred alternative yet, the only option to which the government has given support is conveniently Cuomo’s. As Queens residents and transit activists alike realize chances to stop this $2 billion boondoggle are running out, the opposition has called on Cuomo to put the brakes on the AirTrain and plan it properly. For Streetsblog last week, I penned an op-ed questioning the transit value of this route and making the transit case for a better option.
That piece and the neighborhood opposition seemed to have struck a nerve with someone in Albany or at the Port Authority, and the PA’s Executive Director responded with his own defense of the Cuomo AirTrain on Monday. I wanted to respond in depth to Cotton’s claims, but I also want to take a step back and conduct a deeper dive into the state of the Laguardia Airtrain than I was able to for the Streetsblog piece. So let’s go for a journey.
Previously on “Backwards AirTrain”…
To recap how we’ve gotten here, the governor proposed the idea out of nowhere in 2015. As transit experts delved into his plan, a consensus emerged that the Willets Point route would save very few people any time at all, and with an initial price tag of $450 million, the no-build option appeared to be the best. After all, why sink half a billion dollars from a limited pot of transit funds into a line with no real benefits?
Cuomo’s plan spurred on dreams of a revival of a true subway extension to the airport instead, but nothing really happened. After a 2016 release on the redevelopment of Laguardia including just one mention of the airtrain, I thought the plan transit vaporware on life support. By 2017, costs had more than doubled to $1 billion, but it kept chugging along. Cuomo wanted the train despite the cost and utility, and he was going to get his train.
This past summer, costs doubled again, as the Port Authority budgeted over $2 billion for the Laguardia AirTrain before any alternatives analysis had been published. I called for the governor to cancel the project then, and I repeated that call in the Streetsblog piece last week. It is, of course, falling on deaf ears as the Port Authority and the FAA are pushing forward with the Willets Point proposal.
Inside the LGA AirTrain Alternatives Screening
Behind the scenes, the Port Authority has been hard at work attempting to justify Cuomo’s proposal while giving short shrift to options that improve transit through neighborhoods in Queens and to the airport. At some point since October of 2018, the Port Authority quietly released a series of comprehensive planning reports all available midway down their AirTrain page. I want to focus on key parts of the alternatives analysis, conducted in 2018 and available as a PDF. The FAA has recently adopted this analysis for a community presentation, and it appears to have definitively eliminated any other option other than the Backwards AirTrain despite what I believe is a flawed analysis.
For the Alternatives Analysis, the Port Authority considered ferry service, improving bus service, extending the subway from Astoria or implementing an airtrain from Woodside in addition to Cuomo’s proposal. They assessed each along eight criteria, but I want to focus on two — Criteria 4 (Reduce the use of on-road vehicles to move passengers to, from, and within the Airport) and Criteria 8 (Design and construct a project that avoids substantial disruption to the neighborhoods where it is located). These were the two criteria used to bounce better bus service and subway or other airtrain routings preferred by transit experts.
When it come to buses, the Port Authority essentially gave up. Noting that buses are subject to variable and unpredictable surface traffic conditions and relying on data from the current SBS Q70 implementation, the Port Authority determined that buses wouldn’t fulfill criteria 4. Other bus improvements and busways got the kibosh too:
The conversion of general-purpose traffic lanes to restricted bus lanes would substantially reduce vehicular volume along this corridor and eliminate parking, which would negatively affect businesses and likely be opposed by local businesses and residents. Dedicated bus infrastructure on the BQE, GCP, or RFK Bridge would substantially reduce these roadways’ capacities for general traffic, exacerbating delays on these already congested roadways. It is also unlikely that dedicated lanes could be implemented on these highways without capital enhancements to manage traffic flow and safety. The other types of bus enhancements, such as signal priority, have limited utility without dedicated bus lanes.
Considering all we know about improving bus service and getting people out of cars and into buses, the claim that buses wouldn’t fulfill Criteria 4 because the Port Authority doesn’t want to upset a few people doesn’t pass muster. The analysis seemed to be a convenient excuse to hand-wave away a low-cost solution to Laguardia traffic woes that could be implemented tomorrow and wouldn’t preclude building other high-capacity transit connections to the airport. But buses weren’t what Cuomo and the PA leadership wanted to accomplish.
Moving to rail, the report relied upon the MTA’s 1998 LaGuardia Airport Subway Access (LASA) Study, which determined that only three potential subway routes to the airport were feasible: an elevated branch line from the Astoria Boulevard station via the Grand Central Parkway; an elevated extension from Astoria–Ditmars Boulevard via 19th Avenue; and an extension from Astoria–Ditmars Boulevard via a tunnel beneath 19th Avenue.
Here, Criteria 8 comes into play, and even without delving into the extensive analysis in the Port Authority’s document, you can see where this is going. The PA talks about “extensive, complex construction on the Astoria Line and within and directly adjacent to a residential neighborhood and the GCP.” It mentions that “heavy construction would occur over a long period of time, with activities such as pile driving, jack hammering, the placement of beams and ties, and welding.” And it discussions “large new ventilation structures (in many cases taller than the nearby development)” required for the tunneling option. None of these are new to the fabric of infrastructure in New York City, but each are cited as reasons to avoid pursuing a subway extension. In each case, the Port Authority determined the subway options did not meet Criteria 8, concluding “construction of this alternative would require extensive and lengthy disruption directly within and near a densely developed residential neighborhood.”
A similar analysis bounced potential airtrains from Astoria and Woodside as well, with the Port Authority also bemoaning the need to purchase around 40 total residential and commercial properties for either option. Despite bringing most riders toward their destination (as opposed to away) and still providing connections to the subway and an LIRR station on the Main Line, the Port Authority against used claims of disruption to eliminate the Woodside AirTrain, a proposal that deserves far more consideration. Criteria 8 struck again, and it was a key part in the argument Rick Cotton made in his Streetsblog piece earlier this week. I don’t buy it (as a I explained in a Streetsblog rebuttal).
‘Avoiding disruption’ should not preclude a better transit outcome
But why did the Port Authority decide that one of its goals was to “design and construct a project that avoids substantial disruption to the neighborhoods where it is located”? This isn’t a goal of any other transit project in the region. After all, the Second Ave. Subway tore up the Upper East Side, a neighborhood far denser than any between the subway and LaGuardia in Queens, and the Port Authority’s own World Trade Center site still fences off the Lower Manhattan neighborhood and street grid while disrupting over the years two states’ subway systems. Gov. Cuomo’s plan to use eminent domain to acquire properties to build Penn Station South won’t be disruption-free either, and the concern that eminent domain takings will “substantially alter the character of adjacent blocks” seems to apply only to LaGuardia options but not to a Penn Station expansion.
Usually these are issues an agency mitigates when picking the highest and best transit option, when it came to the airport, avoiding disruption was suddenly grounds to follow a different path away from people, neighborhoods or thorny choices that strong leaders can make. Again, I ask why?
And so let me answer my own question: Why? Because that way, the Port Authority could credibly (or incredibly) eliminate every other option that provides a better connection to existing transit and better transit for under-served neighborhoods while bolstering Cuomo’s proposal. From the day Cuomo announce the Willets Point AirTrain in 2015, it has always seemed as though the fix was in, and sources have long told me Cuomo presented this routing and essentially ordered the PA and MTA to make it work. The Alternatives Analysis and its prickly criteria bear that out.
Now that the FAA has essentially endorsed the PA’s work in its own Alternatives Analysis summary (pdf) while also adding gondolas and helicopters to the mix ahead of bus improvements, the Backwards AirTrain is on the precipice of reality. People will use it it and when it’s built (though the PA’s projections [pdf] of Year 1 ridership in excess of the JFK AirTrain’s current annual total defies belief).
I’m not advocating for no transit to LaGuardia, but I’m advocating for doing it right. We’re making a mistake if we spend $2 billion on AirTrain that’s out of the way and projected to increase travel times for most airport-bound riders. Instead, the governor should use his considerable political capital to urge communities to prepare the disruption of construction of a true transit network that decreases travel times and adds ancillary benefits in the form of new subway stops through subway deserts. An extension of the N would be best, but a connection from Woodside would be a fine reality too. If only the governor saw it this way as well.
Rerouting the Port Washington branch along the GCP to LGA and then back along the NY connecting railroad into the new station near Sunnyside Yards seems like a good idea that was never considered. You’d want to connect at Woodside to allow Long Islanders to get to LGA, but connecting at Sunnyside would be decent. Ideally, run the train (a real train, not airtrain) from Jamaica up the Van Wyck to GCP to LGA, loop it back into Sunnyside, and you provide Long Island access, Midtown Access, and maybe build a rail line you can later pay to add stations to.
Should’ve read your comment first, whoops.
“For the Alternatives Analysis, the Port Authority considered ferry service, improving bus service, extending the subway from Astoria or implementing an airtrain from Woodside in addition to Cuomo’s proposal.”
But not completing more of the route initially promised and connecting to the existing Airtrain at Jamaica. Which would save the cost of an additional vehicle storage and maintenance facility, would not require any additional costly stations (just a modification to the existing station at Jamaica), and might not even require an additional interlocking.
Crazy thought here, but how much would it cost to just send an LIRR 4-car shuttle that way? Departures every 15 mins for Penn and GCT. Surely there’s some way to pull that off?
Basically build a spur off the PW branch, on the same path as the proposed air train. If you’re already going to be doing construction, the scaling up needed for supporting the weight of the LIRR cars isn’t going to be THAT much more. Just go all in and build it right over the parkway like you’d planned. Keep the stop at Willets for the ConRAC, stop at Woodside for Subway connections, utilize whatever Sunnyside stop is there, and boom, you’re a 20 min one-seat ride straight to the terminals. Eliminates the transfer penalty, gets everyone where they want to go, and makes effective stops along the way. It’s 2 miles of elevated LIRR track, how expensive can that be?
Further down the road, it would make for a great opening leg of a Regional Rail system through running to NJ.
That is a pretty good idea actually – but I think the reason they are all looking at stand alone solutions is two-fold. One reason (which is legit) is that there are a lot of federal rules about using airport funds and specifically Passenger Facility Charges. It has to be used for airport transit projects only, hence why you see a lot of people movers as opposed to just spurs or stations. The other is cooperation, that Port Authority would have to work closely with MTA to do the LIRR plan you mention.
But I think its a good plan actually – I think a way around the FAA issues would be that the Port could buy some traincars from MTA, and then contract back to MTA to run them for them, and pay a rental fee for the track maitenance. They might have to also run express, Grand Central to and skip Woodside because there are rules as well about intermediate stops (then becoming a regular transit project basically). But you could also run trains to LIC terminal so folks can hit the seven there I suppose, in addition to GC and Penn.
Yes, it’s been a long time since I last reviewed the particulars of projects that are eligible for funding with funds derived from Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs), but for sure that may come into play.
IIRC, to qualify for funding using PFCs to build the JFK AirTrain, they redrew the property lines of the airport and created the right of way over the Van Wyck Expressway where the elevated tracks run all the way to the LIRR Jamaica Station (including the area within the AirTrain section of the station) and designated it for legal purposes as part of the airport itself.
And that’s part of the reason we’re burdened with the VASTLY INFERIOR when compared to airport rail links found in other domestic USA cities (for example, at BOTH airports, O’Hare and Midway, in Chicago), and especially real world class cities outside of the USA.
But, assuming it’s the eligibility for PFC funding that explains why these ridiculous, pathetic, laughable, 3rd rate (pretend) “trains” (and the equally inferior “people movers”) are still being built, then why the “eff” are these obsolete PFC funding requirements remaining unchanged such that yet again New Yorkers are being burdened for perpetuity with yet another useless toy “train” that wastes precious resources building these laughable, substandard and preposterous rail links best left within the confines Disney amusement parks that embody 1950s design concepts and technology intended for entertainment purposes of Jetson’s-like joy rides aboard then imagined “futuristic” monorails that not just ate anything but futuristic, but worse, are so backwards and substandard, they make NYC look like ridiculous on the world stage.
Again, anyone who has visited many airports around the country, and especially around the world (Hong Kong, for example) knows just how pathetic, laughable and preposterous our 3rd rate, amateur hour, pretend “trains” found at two, and soon possibly all three, of our major airports.
Isn’t anyone else embarrassed and ashamed that these “silly little trolleys” are the best “trains” we can build in NYC?
Surely, I can’t be the only person who finds these appallingly ridiculous and bad, 3rd rate “trains” to/from our airports as shameful and embarrassing as they truly are.
I mean, seriously, are these “silly little trolleys” really the best we can do?!?!
If so, then we’re much worse off as a society than we’re willing to admit.
And as said earlier, that’s just sad.
Great job Ben. Have you looked at my Brooklyn Bus Redesign plan yet?
How can it be that a city that likes to call itself the “Capital of the World” wants to add another 3rd rate AirTrain to the 2 we already have at JFK & Newark Airports that not just require changing trains via a maze of stairs; one-directional escalators (which, of course, are utterly useless if one is going the other direction of the escalator and has baggage, strollers for children, or pet carriers in tow – assuming the escalator is even working at all, that is); traversing mezzanines to change trains; require additional wait times for each train; or worst of all, paying 2-separate fares (now including the outrageous rip-off $7.75 fare to use these pathetic and laughable, 3rd rate “trains”?
Another useless, garbage “train” that’s so pathetic and laughable when compared to other world class cities like London, Amsterdam, Paris, Tokyo or Hong Kong (just to name a few prominent examples of world class cities that have mass transit options better fitting the description of what one reasonably expects to have a world class, global capitals of commerce) we should be embarrassed and ashamed that instead of doing everything possible to catch up with those cities by getting rid of the two existing garbage AirTrains at JFK and Newark Airports ASAP, we “tripling down” on that insanity with plans to build yet another toy train for LaGuardia, too.
Have we lost our freakin’ minds?
How can this be?
Is this some sort of cruel joke?
Or does Bombardier, which operates the JFK AirTrain, have something on Emperor Cuomo (who apart from renaming beloved bridges with his family name fancies himself the Robert Moses ‘Master Builder’ of our time, also now fancies himself as a mass transit expert, too) as “Kompromat” that might otherwise “explain” this full-on, bat crap insanity of cramming this unwanted, useless, joke of a “train” that the world will rightfully view with all due contempt and disdain?
Or do the real estate developers eyeing redevelopment around citified have Emperor Cuomo in their back pockets (or “Kompromat”) since they’re the only stakeholders that stand to gain from this preposterous toy train?
Because otherwise this utterly ridiculous and pathetic “train” simply cannot be explained in anything remotely resembling rational, clear headed, thinking.
And we, as New Yorkers, who’ll not just be wasting a once in a lifetime opportunity to build the type of direct rail link to/from our airport that cities around the world larger, and incredibly, much smaller(!), than NYC (heck cities like Atlanta, Chicago [both of its airports, O’Hare & Midway], Dallas (Love Field) Denver, San Francisco, Washington DC and even Portland, OR ALL have better rail links to/from their airports than we do at ANY of ours. WOW! Let **THAT** sink in) will instead end up with yet another of these utterly preposterous, mostly useless, jokes of pretend “trains” that visitors from around the world will rightfully mock as they take pride in the fact that the cities they live in which New Yorkers love to view as 2nd rate, backwaters devoid of the wealth, culture and sophistication that New Yorkers love to think we have over everywhere else all have first rate train options whisking them in 1-seat, at 1-fare to/from their airports while the best the so-called “Capital of the World” can do is have such pathetic little faux trains plodding along to/from its airports.
Yeah, because those rinky-dink AirTrains are such glorious, shiny and impressive examples of what real world class cities have for their rail links to/from their airports.
This would all be so laughable were it not for the fact that we’re burdened by an idiot Governor who somehow thinks this is the “right mass transportation solution” for New Yorkers and visitors to New York City.
Oh, and one last thing, how is it that for Newark Airport they’re still chomping at the bit to extend the PATH train from its current terminus in downtown Newark out to Newark Airport?
Yeah, I guess they’ll go half baked on that and force riders to pony up an additional $7.75 to get from the end of the PATH line once extended to the airport itself, but at least someone on the New Jersey delegation of the Port Authority wants to get the PATH extended close enough to Newark Airport to (almost) connect it NYC (especially downtown) as a fast, somewhat affordable (versus the current very expensive options) transportation option.
Too bad they just don’t scrap current plans to rehab the current (barely working – as in breaking down & walking the rest of the way from that far away station as I’ve had to do using one of those so NOT world class junk trains we already have at 2 of our airports) garbage “train” and instead just bring the PATH extension all the way into Newark Airport, say the way cities like Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, etc., etc., etc., already do…
Oh, well, I guess when the best we can do is elect narcissistic, 3rd rate politicians, the best we should expect to get for our airports are those awful, ridiculous, laughable, 3rd rate faux “trains”.
And that’s just sad.
But as long as we have those silly little trolleys (as the NY Daily News bemoaned in an Editorial urging rejection of Emperor Cuomo’s ill-considered plans to burden New Yorkers for the rest of our lives with yet another 3rd rate AirTrain for LaGuardia), please let’s all skip the delusion that NYC is even remotely close to being the “Capital of the World” – because surely any city that would have the chutzpah to call itself the world’s capital would NEVER have such pathetic jokes for “trains” to link connect their airports with the rest of their city.
Anyone who has traveled to cities that do have REAL TRAINS operating directly to/from the passenger terminals at their airports knows THAT.
Surely we, as New Yorkers, can demand better than these “silly little trolleys” for our airports – can’t we?
Imagine hearing this rant in person, in all its vein-bulging, wide-eyed glory. Flecks of spittle flying out and hitting you. Love it! Extend the NW!
I normally get annoyed at such long winded posts, but this was GLORIOUS! You have my respect.
Oh, one last thing:
Does anyone who’s ever used either of the garbage “trains” at JFK or Newark Airports, which are BIGGER and have far more passengers per year using them than LaGuardia really believe that slide that says the “silly little trolleys” will run every 4 minutes when they don’t operate that frequently at JFK or Newark?
Wow! Talk about shameless fact fudging!
Now, that’s quite a doozy.
What’s really needed is an old school “Muckraking” investigative journalist look-see into uncovering what’s really behind this $2 billion (and counting), full-on, BOONDOGGLE.
There must be a some other real reason why we’re stuck with these embarrassing and otherwise wholly unacceptable, 3rd rate “silly little trolleys” generation after generation while virtually every other city larger and even much smaller than NYC can build REAL RAIL links to/from their airports but somehow we can’t!
Otherwise, enough is enough!
BUILD A FIRST RATE RAIL LINK TO/FROM OUT AIRPORTS THE BEFITS A REAL, WORLD CLASS, 21st CENTURY GLOBAL CITY/“CAPITAL” – STARTING WITH LAGUARDIA!
PERIOD. NO EXCEPTIONS.
Let’s start with the N/W extension to LGA via 19th Avenue, though I would add two stops to it: One at Steinway and the other at Hazen. Benefits Airport riders and residents in Astoria.
There is even more to your great reporting! NYC is spending $200 million on a clean up project to bring back wetlands on the shore and upgrade the sewer system for Flushing Bay. Much of this work will be performed on the same waterfront shoreline as the proposed $2 billion LaGuardia Air Train. How much of this environmental remediation work will have to be done over a second time due to construction of the LaGuardia Air Train? Has this issue been dealt with in the Federal Aviation Administration Environmental Impact Statement? Are the two projects compatible? Will taxpayers be stuck paying twice for the same work?
In 2015. the estimated cost for construction was $450 million with opening of service in 2019. It was subsequently pushed back to 2021. If lucky, perhaps 2025 for opening day service, The original cost and schedule was based on a concept from a planning feasibility study. Five years have passed with the cost estimate growing to $2 billion! The FAA may not issue a NEPA finding for many more months. Advancement of design and engineering efforts will take one to two years.
The final cost could easily end up higher than the current $2 billion. Costs will be refined by award of construction contracts and change orders during construction.
Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office
The way I see it personally, for Cuomo and the PA, this backwards plan is a win win, and a lose lose for riders. Think about it. A rail line-either RR or subway-doesn’t help the PA. How? “$7.75”! Cuomo does NOT know how transit works, hence his assinine plan. The PA wants that $7.75 per rider and will go along with any plan to make that happen, even if it’s the wrong one, to get it built. With Cuomo’s support, that will happen in the PAs favor. An LGA airtrain isn’t a bad thing as long as it’s planned correctly, which it isn’t!
The shortest and most direct route is using the Amtrak line to the Hell Gate bridge. A 1.5 mile spur off the line can follow the BQE to the Grand Central and then split off to build a station right in front of the Main Terminal at LaGuardia. Service can be scheduled to Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal with a travel time of less than 15 minutes. The spur would follow the highways to LGA. This is the most sensible and direct routing into town offering nonstop and fast frequent service, with room for luggage.
I like that plan, but as noted above to use PFC money requires it only to be for airport transit. That rule is the problem & I wonder if the CTA bypassed the use of PFC funding to extend the Blue & Orange lines to O’Hare & Midway respectively.
The rules for PFC for a Transit project that goes through an airport let’s say is that they can only pay for the portion on airport land. So they can pay for the tracks and whatnot that are on the land, however I think with the AirTrain because it’s a self-contained transfer system the pfc’s can therefore be used to get the AirTrain to the transfer destination off-site. But I’m not a hundred percent sure because someone mentioned in one of these comments sections that JFK annex parts of Jamaica for its AirTran so maybe it’s the same rules for both oh, that it has to be on airport property.
What became of this? Seems not just for the airports anymore.
Here’s what the FAA proposed in 2016:
The FAA has identified three proposed means by which an airport could demonstrate eligible costs of on-airport rail trackage to be funded through PFC revenues. The first proposal would measure and allow PFC funding of the incremental cost (81 Fed. Reg. at 26613) of incorporating an airport station to a transit system; the second proposal (81 Fed. Reg, at 26614) would allow PFC funding if the through-track rail system was less expensive than a stand-alone people-mover bringing passengers in from an off-airport station; and the third proposal (81 Fed. Reg. at 26615) would allow PFC funding if the proportion of the rail system to be funded through PFC revenues would be no more than the prorated costs of the trackage on airport property, based on ridership forecasts and the percentage of airport-bound passengers and employees.
So, it’s a little better.
Send 6 trains per hour of the #7 line over the GCP into LGA.
-You would have a one seat ride into Times Square and Grand Central with connections to almost every subway line and commuter rail
-Flushing terminal could still get 20+ trains per hour and this eases the turnaround there
-using the turnout for the existing train yards mean greatly reduced infrastructure needed
I still don’t understand why it has to be elevated on Grand Central Parkway – why can’t we did tunnel under Grand Central Parkway? It seems to me that the largest issues with tunnel digging in city is moving underground power lines and sewer lines – this is a pressure point that causes huge cost overruns and delays but highways do not have these issues . Also the NIMBY issues would be non existent since you are digging under a highway .
digging vs elevated:
elevated is cheaper
a subway near lga will face a high water table and is subject to flooding due to global warming storms.
Global warming and sea level rise is going to take out LaGuardia anyway, and it apparently competes for airspace with JFK, so the best move is to close it.
Why Ocasio-Cortez Is Criticizing Cuomo’s Plan for a Train to La Guardia https://nyti.ms/2RhyGOi
they need to raise airline fares for the routes coming into LaGuardia and lower gas prices. Cut down the trafiic:: lower the demand
make it like the 60’s when it was a pleasure to visit the airports.
Can someone explain to me why we can’t build a direct connection to the LIRR tracks at Willetts Point and use the same Airtrain cars on the LIRR tracks? That way, there’s access to Grand Central and Penn. Is it an engineering issue?
“Can someone explain to me why we can’t build a direct connection to the LIRR tracks at Willetts Point and use the same Airtrain cars on the LIRR tracks? That way, there’s access to Grand Central and Penn. Is it an engineering issue?”
how many trains per hour do you propose?
how many from grand central?
how many from Penn Station?
One every 15 minutes from each would most likely be doable non-rush hours but for rush you would most likely not have sufficient available capacity – remember a goal is to have very frequent service on the port washington line when esa opens.
I have to disagree with you. Cuomo’s in on this project mainly because he figures he can take all the credit of a big political win in return for spending very little of his own political capital (most of the political capital being used for this project is the Port Authority’s). If this project ends up failing – at any stage of the project, from pre-construction all the way to post-completion – Cuomo’s not going to give a shit, he’ll have already moved on to the next big thing, like PSNY expansion, etc. The biggest downside to him for swooping in for the big political win is that, in the meanwhile, he has to put up with being scapegoated by the detractors.
Cuomo also figures that this project is good way to use Port Authority as a cash cow; the Port Authority is ok with that since this project is a step towards one of their biggest goals, to connect LGA to JFK with an airport circulator via Jamaica station. To the Port Authority, Willets Point is essentially a red herring – a station that it’ll have to put up with, and can justify for now, just to get the next stage of the AirTrain built and running. Stage 3 is the connection from Willets Point to Jamaica, and Port Authority can sell that connection to its other stakeholders (New Jersey and the airlines) by claiming that the AirTrain connection will increase labor and passenger efficiency by providing a quick and reliable airport-to-airport transfer. LGA AirTrain to Jamaica is still a win-win for this use case since it’ll cut the airport-to-airport times from an iffy 1-hr+ to a reliable ~15 minutes, which means folks can reliably fly internationally into JFK and make a LGA transfer to a flight out to their domestic hometown. This also increases New York’s competitive advantage as an airline hub, which right now New York is at a competitive disadvantage for. However, an LGA AirTrain to Jamaica can’t geographically happen without passing through the Willets Point area, so Port Authority is willing to put up with the Willets Point AirTrain as a necessary middle phase to their ultimate goal.
Lastly, LGA AirTrain isn’t transit. It isn’t meant to be transit, and it’s not being funded as transit. Port Authority is using monies collect from airline passenger fees to build the LGA AirTrain; as such, it’s not public taxpayer money that would have had to go through all the layers of public meetings to approve the project if it were taxpayer money. This is the cash cow aspect of the Port Authority – lots of money, lots of potential to make more money, but money that can’t be spent on transit within New York City. Instead, the money has to be spent on projects that directly benefit the airport (or else the airlines will complain about high fees) and on projects that have an interstate commerce aspect to it (or else New Jersey and the feds will complain about the existence of the Port Authority). If the Port Authority builds something that ends up increasing NYC transit options, New Jersey will complain about the unfairness of it, and the airlines will complain to the FAA about subsidizing non-airport projects (cf United Airlines’ complaints against using passenger fees to fund the PATH extension to Newark Airport). LGA AirTrain is thus shoehorned into a very specific funding package that has nothing to do with Cuomo and is rigged towards the desires of the Port Authority, not the other way around.
In summary: Port Authority is the key driver of the LGA AirTrain, Cuomo is only along for the ride, LGA AirTrain is not transit, MTA is completely shut out. Approval is only a formality from FAA, and the project is inevitable as long as Port Authority doesn’t piss off the airlines or New Jersey, and Queens residents don’t form daisy chain protests across the Grand Central Parkway to block the AirTrain construction.
Blue Line direct to O’Hare
Orange Line direct to Midway
That was easy.