Travelers to the dingy LaGuardia Airport on the northern tip of Queens have long grumbled about the commute. In a city weaved together by more than two dozen subway lines, no train comes within walking distance of the 75-year-old airport, a gap in the system which has frustrated and puzzled generations of New Yorkers.
But Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been rolling out a spate of ambitious proposals in anticipation of his State of the State address tomorrow, said this morning that a train link would be constructed from the No. 7 line and Long Island Rail Road at Willets Point to LaGuardia, lending the airport the type of rail link extended to John F. Kennedy International Airport more than a decade ago.
The Laguardia AirTrain, Mr. Cuomo said, would run along the Grand Central Parkway and not “create an undo burden to any other neighboring structures.”
“You can’t get to LaGuardia by train there and that really is inexcusable. And that we’re going to change over the next several years,” Mr. Cuomo said at an Association for a Better New York breakfast in Midtown Manhattan.
Mr. Cuomo said the rail link would be about 1.5 miles; he put no initial price tag or timetable on the project. The eight-mile AirTrain from Jamaica, Queens to JFK Airport cost $1.9 billion and was opened in 2003 after construction began in 1998.
The JFK AirTrain, which runs above the Van Wyck Expressway, had some setbacks. A derailment of a test car, chalked up to human error, killed a train operator in 2002.
Mr. Cuomo reiterated a desire made public last October to create a ferry link from Manhattan to the beleaguered LaGuardia, an airport likened to a third-world country by Vice President Joseph Biden. To laughs, Mr. Cuomo projected Mr. Biden’s full quote for the ABNY crowd during his slideshow presentation.
The governor, who also called for new amenities at JFK and a tax-free zone to surround Stewart International Airport in Orange County, insisted the cost of the new AirTrain could be covered with state resources, the Port Authority and Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s budgets and part of a $5 billion bank settlement, along with public-private partnerships.
The Global Gateway Alliance, a group of business leaders that advocates for improved airports, praised the plan while calling for more immediate action. “We do not need words or speeches; we need action–both on the state and federal level–to provide a budget and timeline quickly. Today’s speech shines a bright light on the kinds of investments needed, but we need to follow through and turn these words into action,” said Joe Sitt, the chairman of the alliance and a major real estate developer.
What isn’t clear is how the AirTrain near Citi Field will complement or conflict with the planned redevelopment of Willets Point, a sprawling area of scrapyards and auto body shops bordering Citi Field. Mr. Cuomo said there wouldn’t be any “siting issues” with the AirTrain because Willets Point is “basically an industrial area.”
But the City Council rubberstamped a plan in 2013 to build housing units and an entertainment complex in the gritty neighborhood, relocating hundreds of auto body shop workers.
“At this point I would not venture a guess for the timing,” Mr. Cuomo said of the AirTrain project. “We need a couple of months to work up the design.”
Updated with comment from the Global Gateway Alliance.