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LaGuardia Air Train faces almost certain delays

By Larry Penner

There is more to “A Solution At LGA” (Editorial – Oct. 7). The recent presentation by the Port Authority before the Queens Borough Board missed the current status of the accompanying LaGuardia Airport Train to the Plane project.

Gov. Cuomo continues to be overly optimistic concerning building a train to the plane for LaGuardia Airport. Success for this project is dependent upon the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and MTA working well together. Fifteen years after 9/11, the Cortland Street World Trade Center #1 IRT subway station is still several years away from being back in service. If there are no new delays, perhaps the station will reopen by December 2018. The Port Authority and MTA fought for years over budget, funding sources, scope and schedule. Construction for the MTA portion of the project just started in 2015.

Everyone has long forgotten that the successful Air Train, which currently runs between the LIRR Jamaica Station and Kennedy Airport was supposed to continue proceeding north along the Van Wyck Expressway and connect with LaGuardia Airport. The Port Authority did not have sufficient funding to complete the original full scope of the project.

This original extension to LaGuardia Airport could also have connected with the LIRR and No. 7 subway line at the Mets-Willets Point Station. Construction primarily within existing highway right of way would have eased any local community opposition from those who owned homes and or businesses adjacent to the route. Too bad the Port Authority choose instead to spend billions in non-transportation investments during this same time period instead of completing the Air Train to LaGuardia Airport.

The estimated cost of $450 million for construction of the LaGuardia Air Train is just a concept based upon a planning feasibility study. A full 21 months have passed since Cuomo announced this project with little progress to date. There are no environmental documents or any preliminary design and engineering efforts necessary to validate any actual construction costs.

The anticipated final potential cost for the LaGuardia Airtrain could end up several hundred million dollars above Cuomo’s estimated figure of $450 million. Costs will be further refined by the award of construction contracts followed by change orders to the base contracts during construction.

There will be significant conflicts when the LaGuardia Airtrain is built and open for service with connections to both the Mets Willets Point subway and LIRR stations. Why would any LaGuardia Airport-bound travelers with luggage attempt to squeeze in on already packed morning and afternoon rush hour subway and LIRR trains? Cuomo apparently never considered how this issue would be resolved when contemplating this project. Cuomo in 2014 promised that the LaGuardia Airtrain would be up and running within five years by 2019. Now he has said this will occur by 2021.

To build a train to the plane from the Mets-Willets No. 7 subway and LIRR station to LaGuardia Airport within five years for $450 million as promised by Cuomo is a planners’ dream. In reality it will be a nightmare for both taxpayers and riders. You can count on cost overruns in the hundreds of millions and multi-year delays in construction before it is a reality.

Larry Penner

Great Neck

(Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office).

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