- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation giving the go-ahead to build an elevated train to LaGuardia Airport. LaGuardia currently does not have any rail service and the only public transit that serves it are a handful of bus routes that link to the New York subway and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) in Queens. The AirTrain would cover a 1.5-mile stretch and connect to the subway and LIRR, as buses currently do.
- The AirTrain LGA connection reportedly would allow riders to travel between the airport in Queens and Grand Central Terminal or Penn Station in midtown Manhattan in less than 30 minutes. That trip currently takes about 50 minutes by public transit or about 35 minutes by car.
- An environmental impact study is expected to commence this summer, construction on the $1.5 billion project is expected to begin in 2020 and the train could begin running by 2022. The project is in conjunction with an ongoing $8 billion LaGuardia Airport overhaul.
LaGuardia is the only major New York area airport without rail service, and politicians have called for a transit solution for years. The airport overhaul is expected to increase passenger traffic, which in turn will increase vehicular congestion due to the limited public transit options. Cuomo presented AirTrain as a means for reducing congestion and delays for air passengers.
Despite calls for airport rail service, critics were quick to jump on this particular plan because of its indirect route. Passengers coming from Manhattan on the subway would overshoot LaGuardia to transfer to AirTrain, then backtrack to the airport. Critics who took to social media to ridicule the plan also cast doubt on whether the project would actually come to completion.
Critics also question the 30-minute travel time projection, noting the estimate doesn't consider time spent transferring and waiting for the next AirTrain to arrive. Plus, some in the transportation industry note recent improvements the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has made to offer limited-stop bus service to LaGuardia, which might make the overall travel time comparable to the AirTrain projection. On the other hand, some travelers coming from eastern locations such as Long Island might actually experience shorter airport commutes with AirTrain.
Some people do not believe AirTrain is the correct focus for a city whose existing transportation infrastructure already is in crisis. Last year, Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the MTA and authorized $1 billion in improvements following repeated system failures and delays, including a subway derailment that injured 34 people. Last month, MTA released a plan to speed up some of those improvements.
Because of the sub-par infrastructure determinations, some people would rather see more money funneled to upgrades on the current system instead of adding a brand new transit line. Other suggested alternatives to the AirTran include express buses or ferries and extending the subway through Queens to the airport.