One of Governor Kathy Hochul’s first moves in office was to pause her predecessor’s plans for a $2 billion AirTrain at LaGuardia Airport and ask the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to come up with other options.
On Wednesday, the Port Authority released sketches for 14 alternatives, including light rail, bus routes and subway extensions. It’s now seeking community input before moving forward.
The ideas include several new bus routes, which advocates have said are a low-cost, efficient way to move many people to the airport, as long as the routes are clear of traffic. The proposed bus lines to the airport include a new dedicated route along the Q70 line, which connects to the 7 train’s Roosevelt Avenue station in Jackson Heights, a route for the M60 from Manhattan across 125th Street, the RFK Bridge and down Astoria Boulevard to LaGuardia, as well a a dedicated bus lane from Astoria to the airport.
There are other proposals for new bus routes that would connect to existing N/W subway lines in Astoria.
Transit advocates cheered when Hochul called on the PANYNJ to find an alternative to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s AirTrain project. They said, for $2 billion, there are cheaper, more equitable options. And environmentalists were concerned that Jamaica Bay and Corona neighborhoods would be unfairly burdened by the construction of a new AirTrain.
Still, the new options include light rail routes that would run above and below ground through Woodside, Jamaica Station, Astoria and Jackson Heights. Another would connect to the Mets-Willets Point 7 train stop, along a similar route as the original AirTrain proposal.
“It's so refreshing to see state leaders acknowledge that there actually are options — besides a backwards parking lot shuttle for better transit access to the airport,” Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director with Riders Alliance, wrote in an email. “Even if the governor ultimately directs the Port Authority or MTA to build a new rail line, she should opt for one or more of the bus priority projects to roll out in the immediate future. Better buses to La Guardia, with multiple rail connections and dedicated lanes, could begin running in a matter of months, for a tiny fraction of the cost of new rail.”
There are no costs pegged to the proposals yet.
“Governor Hochul directed the Port Authority to thoroughly examine alternative mass transit solutions to increase connectivity to LaGuardia Airport, and we look forward to reviewing input on these options to help ensure world-class transportation to our airport,” Hazel Crampton-Hayes, a spokesperson for the Governor said in a statement.
Given the cost of MTA construction, the proposal to extend the N/W line from 30th Street Station, or Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard to LaGuardia would likely be among the most costly.
Ferry options are on the table as well. Advocates previously complained the Port Authority “cherry picked” its criteria to favor Cuomo’s plan, excluding options like ferries the first time.
“There are a lot of promising options before us, but I’ll reiterate what I said when we were fighting the original plan: this needs community input,” State Senator Jessica Ramos wrote in an email. “I need to hear more from my neighbors, so before I endorse a particular option, my office will conduct additional outreach and host opportunities for my community to discuss each of the plans in turn.”
On the last page of the plans, the Port Authority leaves open the possibility that new technologies, which haven’t been proven effective may still be considered, such as “narrow tunnels with electric vehicles” — an idea pushed by Tesla founder Elon Musk. Other ideas such as autonomous buses are being piloted in other cities, but have yet to be tried in New York City.
The government transparency group Reinvent Albany had released a report analyzing the original AirTrain plans and found that per rider, at $2 billion, it would’ve been one of the most expensive transit projects in the world. But now, Jon Orcutt, a consultant for the group, believes the 14 options are more realistic, and affordable.
“I think if you want to get a lot of people to ride transit to the airport, you keep it simple — and to us, that means fix some bus options now and extend the subway later,” Orcutt said. He said a ferry could work, although it’s not clear how people would walk to their destinations. He said adding a light rail option would be too costly and take too long to complete.
“We have a big transit system, let’s just make use of it, “ he said. “In Washington you can take Metro to National, in San Francisco you can take BART into SFO, that’s how you do it.”
The PANYNJ wrote that a questionnaire was sent to 70 key stakeholders, including elected officials and community organizations about these options. In March, there will be two public meetings to discuss the 14 new options.
The in-person public workshops will be held at the LaGuardia Marriott Hotel in East Elmhurst on Wednesday, March 16, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and on Thursday, March 24, at the Astoria World Manor, from 6 p.m. to 8 pm. Attendees will be able to record comments for consideration in the evaluation process.