Willets Point transfer station Willets Point transfer station/rendering provided by Gov. Cuomo’s office

NEW YORK CITY—Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a law to go forward with the environmental review required for construction of the $1.5 billion LaGuardia AirTrain. The project is part of the $8 billion redevelopment of LaGuardia Airport currently underway. It seeks to create less than 30-minute mass transit travel between Midtown Manhattan and the airport.

The proposal directs the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates LaGuardia Airport, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build a transfer station at Mets-Willets Point. From there an AirTrain would leave to the airport every four minutes.

The governor’s office computes the under 30-minute trip starting with a 16-minute ride on the Long Island Rail Road from Penn Station or Grand Central Terminal (or an MTA ride on the 7 subway line, which could take a little longer). The travelers would then transfer at Mets-Willets Point onto the AirTrain’s additional six-minute ride to LaGuardia.

LGA map rendering LGA AirTrain project map/provided by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office

An environmental review, led by the Federal Aviation Administration, would examine the AirTrain’s possible routes. Community members and elected officials have already provided input for the corridor with the potential routes. However, additional public input will continue to be heard. The environmental review is scheduled to begin this year and to finish by the end of 2019. No route can be approved before this process is completed. Construction is expected to begin in 2020 with the opening in 2022.

The legislation allows the Department of Transportation to take lands owned by the city or the MTA within the established corridor. The New York Times noted that Gov. Cuomo seemed to like the routes as his office stated no private property would be impacted.

However the newspaper pointed out: “Riders would first have to schlep past the airport, east to Citi Field—the home of the Mets—to catch the AirTrain then backtrack.” The New York Times also quoted an M.I.T. city planning doctoral student who said the travel time could be longer adding in time waiting on platforms for trains to arrive.

Gov. Cuomo emphasizes public transportation is essential to the airport’s overall upgrade.

“AirTrain LGA will set an example of comprehensive transit infrastructure for the rest of the nation, and will pay dividends for decades by connecting riders to transit hubs across the Metropolitan area, boosting passenger growth across all airlines, and providing a more efficient means of travel for generations to come,” he says.

“For too long, LaGuardia Airport has had the dubious distinction of being the only major East Coast airport without a rail link, and that is unacceptable,” says Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton. “Simply put, a 21st-century airport must meet global standards, and that requires rail mass transit access.”

In the real estate community, the New York State AFL-CIO president Mario Cilento, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York president Gary LaBarbara, and the New York Building Congress president and CEO Carlo A. Scissura voice firm support for the proposal. They endorse the project as building highly needed infrastructure and providing good jobs.