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MTA isn't ready for LaGuardia AirTrain ridership, comptroller says

Citing infrequent LIRR service to the new airport

Citing infrequent LIRR service to the new airport link and shrinking funds for critical station upgrades, Comptroller Stringer penned a letter asking for more rail service to handle larger crowds. Photo Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

The MTA isn’t ready to handle additional riders expected to take the LaGuardia AirTrain coming in 2022, according to City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Citing infrequent Long Island Rail Road service to the new airport link and shrinking funds for critical station upgrades, Stringer penned a letter to the Port Authority and MTA dated Monday June, 17, asking for more rail service to handle larger crowds.

“Improving access to LaGuardia is a critical component of our transit planning, I do want to make sure that any new transit doesn’t strain or draw resources away from the lines we already have,” Stringer said.

The Port Authority has budgeted $1.5 billion to build the AirTrain — a key priority of Gov. Andrew Cuomo — on a nearly 2-mile right of way connecting to the LIRR Port Washington branch and the 7 line at Mets-Willets Point.

But funding for 7 train and LIRR station upgrades to accommodate new commuters and an AirTrain hub has shrunk, according to Stringer. The MTA had originally allotted $75 million for an LIRR station upgrade to handle more riders, but that allocation has since shrunk to $10 million. Another $50 million was sent to the subway station for upgrades, but that project has yet to commence, Stringer found.

While the city’s airports are notoriously difficult  to access by transit, the LGA AirTrain has been criticized from the start for its poor planning and being a route crafted around the desire to avoid private property. Planning experts have said an extension of the N line, or a comparable AirTrain to Woodside or Jamaica, would be more meaningful in terms of travel time and ridership draw.

The Port Authority has touted a 33-minute trip from midtown to LGA, but Port Washington trains only run every half-hour out of Penn Station between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. and regularly skip lower-ridership stations during rush hour. Stringer in his letter called for more service and the option of including more local stops.

“This infrequent service, if kept as is, will not be sufficient to handle increased demand from LaGuardia passengers,” Stringer wrote.

The MTA declined to publicly address Stringer’s questions.

“We intend to respond directly to the Comptroller regarding his letter,” said Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesman, “but we are working collaboratively with the Port Authority to ensure that LIRR service will meet capacity needs associated with [the AirTrain].”

A representative from the Port Authority affirmed the organization's committment to the existing plan.

“This critical rail link will provide 6-10 million passengers every year with reliable travel times below 30 minutes between midtown Manhattan and the airport — getting airport travelers off congested roads, benefiting all motorists and the community, and reducing pollution," said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton in a statement. "We look forward to a period of extensive public input and comment as the FAA proceeds with the environmental review.”

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