LaGuardia AirTrain plan may not improve travel time, de Blasio says

Mayor Bill de Blasio joined skeptics in questioning whether Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s AirTrain to LaGuardia will actually improve travel times to the airport.

“I think the intention is a good one, but I am concerned also that it may not have all of the effect that’s desired,” the mayor said during his weekly appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show on Thursday.

The Port Authority project, championed by the governor, would bring an AirTrain running from Willets Point, Queens, to LaGuardia. It would be supported by a to-be-built, three-station complex at Willets Point that would serve as a joint stop for the No. 7 train, LIRR and the AirTrain.

The mayor’s comments come three days after the Port Authority awarded a $14.6 million contract to Parsons Brinckerhoff to prepare initial designs. The total project is estimated to cost $1.5 billion and will provide 30-minute travel times to the airport from Penn Station or Grand Central Terminal, Cuomo has guaranteed.

Some critics of the proposal have argued that current options like the M60 bus would offer faster commutes to the airport. Others fear an AirTrain stop at Willets Point would overburden already packed No. 7 trains. Earlier this year, a Port Authority commissioner said the AirTrain idea was among “the most ill-conceived projects that I’ve experienced in government.”

De Blasio commented on the governor’s proposal while acknowledging that he hasn’t seen specific plans yet. He clarified that he would reserve a complete analysis until he had.

“I haven’t seen the specific plans; I’d have to see [them] to be able to judge it more specifically, more clearly,” de Blasio said. “But, look, the notion that we need to make it easier for people to get to the airport — absolutely — and on that level, I agree with the governor.

“Whether this is the best way to do it, I can’t say at this point,” de Blasio continued. “But I’m happy to look at the plan as we get more details.”

Jon Weinstein, a spokesman for the governor, said the AirTrain route was the best bet for LaGuardia, which is expected to serve 34 million annual fliers, an increase of more than 6 million, by 2030.

“LaGuardia is the only major airport on the East Coast without a direct rail mass transit link — and finally we’re correcting that absurd anomaly,” Weinstein said in a statement. “The AirTrain connection to LaGuardia via Willets Point is the best plan — a 30-minute ride from midtown Manhattan that does not require eminent domain, and unlike other failed proposals, will actually get done.”