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Gov. Cuomo unveils proposal to build an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport

LAGUARDIA
THE COURIER/File photo

Getting to LaGuardia Airport could get a whole lot easier.

Gov. Cuomo rolled out a proposal to build an AirTrain from the Willets Point No. 7 train station to LaGuardia Airport, similar to the train line now connecting John F. Kennedy Airport to the Long Island Rail Road’s Jamaica station and the Howard Beach A train station.

“You can’t get to LaGuardia by train today and that really is inexcusable,” Cuomo told several hundred of the city’s top business leaders during a speech before the Association for a Better New York at a Midtown hotel Tuesday morning. “That is going to change over the next several years.”

“We will construct an AirTrain that will connect with the route 7 subway line and the Long Island Rail Road at Willets Point and will take you into LaGuardia Airport. That is about a mile and a half construction. It will run along the Grand Central Parkway in an area that we believe won’t create an undue burden to any other neighboring structures,” Cuomo said.

The proposed train line is part of an ambitious array of proposals regarding LaGuardia that Cuomo will discuss in his upcoming State of the State speech. He is also calling for a high-speed ferry terminal connecting the airport with Manhattan and a major overhaul of terminals.

He called the rail link “truly long overdue.”

Cuomo downplayed the potential for disruption to neighboring communities, citing the proposed 1.5-mile route through what he described as largely industrial Willets Point and along the Grand Central Parkway. He did not mention the city’s plans to redevelop Willets Point.

The MTA has for more than a decade considered a rail link to LaGuardia. Previous proposals included extending the N and R line from Astoria to create a one-ride trip to the airport.

A LaGuardia AirTrain to the No. 7 line station at Willets Point would also create a connection with the Long Island Rail Road, expanding the potential service area of the project. But it would, like JFK’s rail link, require a transfer to make the trip.

The project would cost an estimated $450 million. But Cuomo  said he would “not venture a guess” about the timing for the project.

The 8-mile JFK AirTrain, built by the Port Authority, cost roughly $2 billion. Construction on that train began in 1998.

The announcement was praised by airport advocates.

“Despite the importance of our airports, key investments into their future have been consistently squeezed into the middle seat,” said Joe Sitt, chairman and founder of the Global Gateway Alliance, a independent advocacy group that is pushing for regional airport improvements.

“GGA has long called for faster mass transit to LaGuardia Airport, and shown how far behind other airports it is in terms of access. Governor Cuomo’s new plan to finally construct a direct rail ride to LaGuardia would be a huge relief for millions of passengers each year and finally put us on par with leading airports around the country and the world, ” Sitt said. “But let’s be clear: we do not need words or speeches; we need action — both on the state and federal level – to provide a budget and timeline quickly,” Sitt said.

Cuomo did not say which agency or public authority would be charged with building the AirTrain to LaGuardia. He shares control of the Port Authority with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and he would need the backing of the Garden’s State’s commissioners on the authority’s board.

Cuomo also controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But the MTA is struggling to fund its current capital projects, including the Second Avenue Subway and the East Side Access connection for the LIRR at Grand Central Terminal.

The JFK Airtrain was funded in part with a $4.50 passenger facility fee that was charged by the Port Authority to airlines for outbound flights.

Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye and MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast, both Cuomo appointees, released a joint statement pledging support for the project.

“The Port Authority and the MTA are working closely to establish the scope, schedule and management of the LaGuardia AirTrain, just as they worked closely to create the successful JFK AirTrain.”

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