Plans for NYC rail link to LaGuardia Airport now abandoned

Plans for a rail link were abandoned Monday that would have connected LaGuardia Airport to New York City's subway and commuter rail system, after intense criticism about its $2.4 billion-plus price tag and the potential effects on surrounding neighborhoods.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul accepted the recommendations made by a panel of transportation experts who determined it would be more feasible in the near-term to increase bus service and add a shuttle. Hochul's action effectively means that LaGuardia — in the borough of Queens, across the East River from Manhattan — will remain among the major U.S. airports without rail service.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015 proposed the 1.5-mile elevated link, similar to one serving John F. Kennedy International Airport elsewhere in Queens. The link was envisioned to serve air travelers who currently rely on taxis and car services, and was originally estimated to cost $450 million.

"The LaGuardia air train never made sense from the start. It would've been a hugely wasteful project. Largely useless to most people," said Danny Pearlstein, Policy and Communications Director with the Riders Alliance.

Hochul ordered a review of the project after Cuomo resigned in 2021 amid a sexual harassment scandal. Criticism of the plan had intensified by then, with elected officials and environmental advocates saying the new rail would harm the Queens neighborhoods it traversed and wouldn’t be appreciably faster than driving.

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Democratic Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who represents part of the area the link would have passed through, spoke out against it, as had former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In a lawsuit filed in 2021, environmental and neighborhood groups asked the FAA to request the Port Authority to pause the project, alleging it was pushed through too fast by Cuomo and the Port Authority and used arbitrary screening criteria to pre-empt meaningful consideration of numerous alternatives to the rail link.

Some of those alternatives include ferry service, the extension of existing subway lines and optimized bus service using dedicated lanes.

Pearlstein supports the panel's recommendations to instead improve the current Q70 bus service from Jackson Heights, Queens to the airport and create a new non-stop shuttle bus service from the N/W subway line in Astoria, Queens to the airport. 

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It would also include building a one-mile-long bus lane on the shoulder of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway northbound between Northern and Astoria Boulevards.

"It can move lots of people between the subway and the airport, and it improves transit in Queens neighborhoods as well as for people traveling through them to get to the airport," Pearlstein said.

In a prepared release on Monday, Hochul thanked the airport's operator, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, for "providing a clear, cost-effective path forward."

"I accept the recommendations of this report, and I look forward to its immediate implementation by the Port Authority in close coordination with our partners at the (Metropolitan Transportation Authority), in the City of New York and the federal government," she said.