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LaGuardia AirTrain environmental review process begins

Opponents argue the LaGuardia AirTrain will undo years of work on restoring Flushing Bay.

An artist's rendering of the AirTrain approaching LaGuardia

An artist's rendering of the AirTrain approaching LaGuardia Airport.  Photo Credit: Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

The Port Authority on Thursday kicked off the environmental review process for the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport.

The bi-state authority is searching for a consultant to help it review the project to bring a direct rail link to LGA, arguing that traffic congestion has significantly worsened in recent years and will only continue to increase along with growth in passengers at the Queens airport.

“Given the congestion on the roads it would be irresponsible and nonsensical not to build an AirTrain and provide a service which will get travelers out of their cars and off the streets,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton.

As the project now stands, the Port Authority intends to build an AirTrain along a 1.5-mile route from the Mets-Willets Point station to LaGuardia over mostly city- and state-owned land to provide what it promises to be an under-30-minute trip to the airport from Midtown. The preferred route would cost about $1.5 billion.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has for years sought the connection, though transit experts have largely derided the idea. They've doubted the quick travel times from Manhattan and criticized the Mets-Willets point connection, which is not as accessible as other rail hubs because of its location along the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Washington branch.

The Port Authority’s alternative analysis released Thursday highlights 20 alternatives, including a subway extension from Astoria; a ferry route from the East 90th Street landing in Manhattan; and expanding bus service with exclusive lanes. But the Port Authority has heavily favored a new rail connection without “substantial disruption” to nearby neighborhoods, which helped narrow out alternatives.  

“We attached a very high value to not taking residential property or commercial priority. The preferred alignment does not do that. And we attached a very high value on not having heavy construction in dense residential neighborhoods; the preferred alignment does not do that,” Cotton said.

Also on Thursday, business and union groups representing airlines, hotels and construction workers, announced the formation of “A Better Way to LGA” to support the AirTrain plan.

But environmentalists and community groups who have been advocating for better public access to Flushing Bay fear the proposed AirTrain route would turn back years of work. Flushing Bay was recently dredged and portions of wetlands have been restored as part of a larger plan to make it cleaner and a barrier for storm surges.

“This is a backward step for New York City in its move toward climate resilience,” said Rebecca Pryor, program coordinator for both Riverkeeper  the Guardians of Flushing Bay. “You are putting a huge infrastructure project over it and limiting that potential.”

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