12 thoughts on “LaGuardia AirTrain Faces Questions Over Route and Rationale

  1. East Elmhurst and neighboring residents, #7 subway and Port Washington Long Island Rail Road riders along with taxpayers have good reasons to be concerned about future impacts of the LaGuardia Air Train. Consider the project history to date.

    I previously wrote that the anticipated final potential cost for La Guardia Airtrain could end up several hundred million dollars above Governor Andrew Cuomo’s original 2014 estimated figure of $450 million. I also predicted that the promised completion date by 2019 was unrealistic. Both have proven to be true. The original Port Authority 2017 – 2026 capital budget plan lists this project at $1 billion. It was subsequently revised to $1.5 billion. Costs will be further refined as the project progresses thru the environmental review process, preliminary and final design, award of construction contracts followed by change orders to the base contracts during construction due to last minute changes in scope or unforeseen site conditions.

    Four years have passed with little progress to date. There are no environmental documents or any preliminary design and engineering efforts necessary to validate construction costs. The environmental review process which recently got under way will be more complicated. More time will be needed to look at new proposed concepts of building over the Flushing Bay Promenade or Flushing Bay. Using one of these concepts versus the original option of using the Grand Central Parkway median could easily add several hundred million to construction costs.

    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 LaGuardia Air Train. How much of this environmental remediation work will have repeated due to construction of the LaGuardia Air Train? Will this issue be 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?.

    Cuomo’s belief that this will provide a “one seat ride” for those traveling to and from LaGuardia Airport isn’t born out by the facts. There will be significant conflicts at both the Mets Willets Point subway and LIRR stations. Why would travelers with luggage and those with children attempt to squeeze in on already packed rush hour # 7 subway and Port Washington branch LIRR trains? Cuomo wants frequent direct LIRR service on the Port Washington branch between Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal and Mets Willets Point station to support his $1.5 billion LaGuardia Air Train. This will require six trains per hour in each direction to support ten minute head ways. It is needed to fulfill his promised 30 minute travel time from LaGaurdia Airport to midtown Manhattan. Even with implementation of Positive Train Control, it may not be possible for the Port Washington LIRR branch to accommodate these additional trains during rush hour. In 2014. he promised that the LaGuardia Airtrain would be up and running within 5 years by 2019. Now he has said by 2021. Even this date appears unrealistic. Completion of the environmental review, preliminary and final design and engineering may require several more years. You will be lucky if construction begins in 2022 and completed by end of 2025.

    There is no room to run additional trains in or out of Penn Station during rush hours via the East River tunnels with connections via the Port Washington LIRR branch. This conflicts with Cuomo’s promise to have the LIRR provide frequent service between Penn Station and Mets Willets Point LIRR Station. What about service from Grand Central Terminal once LIRR East Side Access is achieved in 2023. Three of four East River tunnels running inbound during a.m. and outbound p.m. rush hours have tight spacing between trains. One tunnel is shared by the LIRR, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak for reverse train movements with equally tight spacing during rush hours. There is no Penn Station platform capacity to accommodate any additional trains during rush hour. If one of the four tunnels is temporarily out of service, the result is numerous delays and cancellation of trains.

    Recent implementation of Communication Based Train Control followed by implementation for the Flushing #7 subway in December 2018 (it was suppose to have been completed in October 2016) may only result in increasing the number of trains per hour from 28 to 30 during rush hour. Actual 100% project completion which would include final inspection, acceptance, receipt of all asset maintenance plans, release of retainage and final payment to the contractor will not be reached until April 2019. After that,NYC Transit no longer has any other opportunity for increasing rush hour capacity.

    A one seat ride could be accomplished by extending the N & W subway lines from their current terminus at Astoria/Ditmars Blvd to LaGuardia Airport. This previously died due to local community opposition.

    To build a train to the plane within five years for $1.5 billion is a planners dream. It will be a nightmare for both taxpayers and riders. Count on cost overruns in the hundreds of millions and multiyear delays in construction before reaching beneficial use.

    (Larry Penner is a transportation historian, advocate and writer who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office).

    • Please send your comments to the FAA at LGAaccessEIS.com/formal-comment. The FAA wants public input on the Port Authority’s preferred plan and they also welcome and suggestions for alternative plans. The deadline to submit is Monday at 5pm (Jun 17).

  2. housekeeping: “LAG” is the IATA airport code for La Guaira Airport in La Guaira, Venezuela. The summary of panelist remarks uses “LGA”, the correct airport code for LsGuardia.

    substance: What this story omits — I don’t know if it was discussed at the event: access to LaGuardia airport for its thousands of employees. It’s alluded to in James Carriero’s reference to “employee parking”, but assuming airport employees drive to work is the worst irresponsibility by any measure. Extending the Astoria line’s service (currently, the “N” and “W” lines) is far and away the best alternative for the most airport users; dedicated bus lanes with physical barriers and increased bus service is a distant second.

    • Thanks red bike, for the heads up on the airport code; correction made.

      And yes, the issue of employee parking did come up at the event. There was displeasure at the possibility that some of the plans were being shaped around new or increased parking space for workers.

    • You should send an official comment to the FAA and explain your ideas for extending the N/W line and your secondary plan of improving bus service. The FAA is in a scoping period and it will take comments until 5pm on Monday (June 17th). Please explain why the airtrain proposal is a bad idea in your view. All comments should be submitted at LGAaccessEIS.com/formal-comment.

  3. The pragmatic option is to have the Port Authority run an Air Train to the N/W Astoria terminus. Pending plans for East Bronx service to Penn Station means an additional investment in a Northeast Corridor transfer station above the Ditmars Blvd station would increase this scheme’s regional utility exponentially.

    The selling point for any airport is it’s proximity to the Central Business District. Any La Guardia AirTrain plan must address that. While a Willets Point destination will benefit Citi Field, The US Open and Queens Museum patrons, the bulk of the traffic will be heading west.

    Extending the N/W train to LaGuardia makes the most sense using existing infrastructure. Northern Queens could use the additional service. However, under current rules, the Passenger Facility Charge levied an air passengers cannot be used for this.

    [If nothing else fix the “JRK” typo in the opening paragraph]

    • Please expand on your thoughts and tell the FAA why you believe the subway extension plan is the best idea. The FAA is looking for public comments until June 17th at 5pm. Comments can be sent via the LGAaccessEIS.com/formal-comment website. There are at least sixteen alternative plans under consideration.

  4. So many Manhattan-centric comments above! Why should Manhattan be the only CBD? All transit projects should serve Wall St?
    I am an Asian American living in Downtown Flushing. We are an inclusive community. We welcome whites, blacks, hispanics and any type of development that don’t exclude people. We have already built many mixed residential/commercial buildings here. I support the Willets Point Airtrain, and it’s better to extend it to Flushing Main St station, and even better to expand the LGA airport so I don’t have to take bus to JFK for the Boeing 777s.

  5. I think a train would be great as it would reduce car traffic. A rapid bus serve no point. It get stuck in traffic and the street are already crowded by taxis.

    Based on other major airports around the world. Trains have significantly reduce traffic and have been more reliable then a bus.

    It would be great if the 7, N, W train stopped at LGA. As well as a direct train from LGA to JFK(or a ferries from LGA to JFK). This would cut traffic down on Van Wyck expressway and GCP.

    I would also say add a ferry from the airport to major stations at Manhattan, Brooklyn and Bronx. This would significantly cut traffic. It terrible to ever drive from bronx to catch the flight same as coming from Manhattan to catch a flight.

    This way a person can hop on the ferry from Bronx and reach LGA
    If the ferry goes down they have a train alternative.

    Would create jobs and cut traffic.

    • Please tell your ideas to the FAA at LGAaccessEIS.com/formal-comment. The FAA is looking for public comments on the Port Authority’s proposed plan until June 17th at 5pm. The ferry system and subway extension ideas are the kinds of things they want to hear about. They also want comments about potential problems with the airtrain and ideas for what to study during the upcoming environmental review.

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