The Federal Aviation Administration has given the green light to LaGuardia Airport’s proposed AirTrain project for a rail link connecting the airport with New York City’s rail and subway system.
Approval of the final environmental impact statement removes a major hurdle for the airport’s Access Improvement Project, estimated to cost roughly $2 billion, to seek federal funding.
The elevated 1.5-mile monorail would connect to the Mets-Willets Point station in Queens next to Citi Field, a stop that serves the Long Island Rail Road and the No. 7 subway line. The AirTrain would serve two on-airport stations, with automated people movers running every four minutes between the station and the airport.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, projected ridership at 17,000 people per day in 2026, rising to just over 18,000 by 2031. The FAA report put the number at 13,000 people by 2026 and 14,000 by 2031.
According to the Port Authority, the AirTrain promises travel times to and from Midtown Manhattan of 30 minutes or less. Via the LIRR, Midtown destinations include Penn Station and the new East Side Access at Grand Central Station, which is scheduled to be completed in December 2022.
The 80-year-old LaGuardia Airport has been undergoing a massive reconstruction project since 2016 which is set to be completed next year. However with Washington Dulles set to open the final leg its own Metro service, LGA would be “the only major airport on the East Coast without a rail mass transit link,” according to a Port Authority statement.
Critics of the plan say it would have negative impact on the neighborhoods in Queens it will run through and wouldn’t appreciably speed up transit times into Manhattan. However, with nearly 90 percent of passengers arriving by private vehicle, travelers frequently encounter heavy roadway congestion, especially on the airport’s narrow lanes.
In its report, the FAA found the AirTrain to be the best alternative to offer “a time-certain transportation option and supplemental access” to the airport, and a reduction in vehicle traffic.
In a statement, the Port Authority said, “The LaGuardia AirTrain will provide a sustainable and reliable travel option and will remove millions of vehicles from congested highways and local roads each year.”
Construction on supporting infrastructure is set to begin this summer, according to the Port Authority, and the project is expected to take more than five years to complete.